Chapter Ten

“In matters of faith,
Saturn transcends friends,
foes, denominations or families.”


          “Get a damn room, why don’t you?”

          “And make it a clean room…a silicon clean room.”

          “Silicone? My Zoe here? Get real, padre, feel free…”

          “God help you, son…”

          “Forget it, pops—you gotsta help yourself.”

          No time for hostile wallbangers. No time for harridan harangues back at the house. Not yet, not now, since first there was this scrum going on…

          We had lingered at StreetJazz’s barricades a mite longer, soaking in the aroma of eggplant pasta and coffee lattes wafting uphill, the cumulative block after block of sheer volume and colorful variety, the whole long white-capped spectacle stretching from here down Fillmore to Ellis Street.  Stormy had since been hitting the bottle, RCane gaining its youthful stride, dancing crowds gathering along fake shrubbery on either side, to where even Tally’s aging sippers had been drawn out, clapping and tapping their walking stick in 4/3 time.

          Finally crossing Jackson Street under a thatch of trolley switches and wires, I steered a still somewhat ponderous professor away from a new clamor of political ironing boards out front of Granos Corner Grocery across the way. There, dogged and defensive Democrats Hoping for Obama scavenged for signatures and counter shouted ‘Yes We Can’ at hopelessly outnumbered Republican operatives, lackeys  spewing the latest Rush-O’Reilly line.  Instead, we’d doubled back to the west side of Fillmore, where foot traffic had thinned considerably, leading us to this exchange between two elder Calvary docents, and a hot ’n’ heavy young couplet all over one another on the church’s august front stairs.

            Before long a church elder, ushered between two warning, wide-eyed rent-a-security guards, answered Paulen’s interfaith inquiry in passing, noting that Calvary had always welcomed all comers, and simply offered forth its transept and nave because Congregation Beth Zahav’s equally majestic temple was closed for seismic retrofits.  Nothing new, the deacon explained, as Calvary Presbyterian had done the same for Temple Emanu-El in the wake of the San Francisco earthquake some hundred years before.

          “That’s con…silicon,” spouted a nearby deacon as he approached the en fuego apostate duo, wagging his clerical index finger, shaking in his black ministerial collar and threads. “As in con-gregation…our congregation.”

          “Yes,” a brown-suited lay usher added, an octogenarian pipe organist nodding at his side, “this is a house of worship, for godsakes!”

          “So I worship Zoe, OK,” the young man said. Part Goth, part grunge, part give-it-all-up, he and his current ‘friend’ resumed their consecration between Calvary’s towering right-side granite columns, under a lotus blossom-like rendering of scriptural stained glass arching high above.

          Spindly, nail file-thin, he wore too small, too dark denim and a motley vest sweater and scruffy Skechers bowling shoes, nearly the same shades of color as his spiky yellow-orange hair.  Beneath him, his hook-up, Zoe was similarly on the darker, although plumper side, bright-striped knee socks and black sneakers worn through and through. Her charcoal smoky-eyed mascara and plasma blush highlighted unchained piercing about her tatted neck and cranial cavities, right up to that navy-gray banded knit cap pulled down just over her ears.

          “May God be with you,” said the deacon, piously turning away, back up into Calvary’s sanctuary. The church’s massive oaken doors remained wide open, revealing intricate, polished pews, woodwork and balcony supports delivered from its original location: the now St. Francis Hotel site on Union Square—back when the grand Edwardian-style masonry edifice before us opened in 1901.

          “Yes, easy there, son,” Reese Paulen sternly cautioned, over the thunder of Calvary’s pipe organ, which was shaking stained glass windows depicting Old and New Testament stories all around the cathedral. “How about a modicum of respect?”

          “Get over it, pops…” Late twentyish, attitudinally bearded, the guy winked at the blushing usher, then shot a stank eye Paulen’s way. “I’m tellin’ ya, God helps those who help themselves. So I don’t owe your sceevin’ ass zilch…”

          “Bingo,” I mumbled under my breath. Help…themselves: well, wasn’t that a moldy oldie from a long-latent temblor, one prime for some renewed seismic activity.  Every side-eyed glance over at Granos Grocery and that cultish little trattoria next door made me dizzier and queasier, particularly during replays of the Greek-turned-Jordanian corner market remaining open that long Loma Prieta night when no one else dared.

          Jamel over there had dutifully lit his store aisles with camping lanterns until all dreadfully dark hours, selling out his bins and shelves without gouging one penny over everyday prices. He had cornered the market on neighborhood gratitude that aftershocking night in 1989, as evidenced to this very moment by that fave trattoria’s lengthy wait-liners ducking in and out of the grocery for tide-over munchies.

          But all this earthquake revisitation just got me thinking real fuzzy, feeling a bit dizzy with the complexities, the contradictions, the infernal counterintuitions, as sludgy blood and glucose flood my brainpan, besot the prefrontals, drilling down on any normal functioning of my brainstem, raising jim-jam hell with regular reticulary formation—axon and dendrite spines fixing to glow. By this time, I could visualize it like the bright thermal colorations of a PET scan. Whoa, then again, better perhaps to project this disorienting surge onto the next best social scientist at hand. “You all right, doc? Having little problem with…?”

          “Me? Cum si, cum sasmall world, just a little…local blowback. But of course I’m all right,” Paulen muttered, glancing back at the feisty couple as Calvary’s portly usher summoned a cycle cop to help swat them both away. “What was that you said about bingo?”

          “Down there, in Calvary’s basement,” I pointed, when actually I was thinking more along the lines of paydirt. “Sign says they’re running a charity bingo parlor event tomorrow night…”

          In retreat, Zoe spun like Mary Poppin’s darker self around one of the church’s antiquated tri-globe street light, blowing kisses to the arching, Gothic columned facade as her boyfriend flipped off the Presbyterians, the patrolman—even the professor. She, by appearances old enough to know better, flipped off Paulen and me as well.

          “Uh-huhwell I’m simply reacclimating,” he sighed, visibly shaken as Zoe then bent over to spread her cheeks his way.  “I suppose everything slows down a trifle when a body hits 58 or so.”

          “58, huh?”  Let’s see, I did a quick bit of ciphering as I nudged him away up street: Two times 29, carry the one—no, two goes into 58—two into five, twice, bring down the eight, two into…aww, hell, however I mangled the numbers, it all came up stupefyingly clear. “So that’s it…”

          “Turned 58 a while back, actually. So what’s it?” Paulen looked away, shaking his head in dismay. He locked on that red dirigible again, now hovering high over Pacific Avenue, gliding slowly north and west. “And what is with that blasted blimp up there?”

          “No ordinary blimp, doc.,” I steadied, “that’s the Saturn airship lording over us now, just like the planet itself is been lording over you now.”

          “Saturn, quite the car, Colorado’s loaded with them. Or the NASA Hubble/Casini project…you know they have their telescope site right up in Boulder’s hills. But what’s that got…”

          “Just ask George Harrison, Andy Warhol, Tim Russert, H. Rap Brown, Senator Paul Wellstone—the Zodiac killer guy, just to name a few,” I spewed, tracking the dirigible’s every tack and downturn. “One way or another, Saturn can do that to a person, I’ve been scuffling through it again myself of late, hanging on for dear life, hoping I can come out the other side in one piece.


KNOW MORE/KNOW LESS: revisit, the Saturn Return “Session” or simply read on…

          Spacious sidewalk notwithstanding, unknown, seemingly lonely women darted aggressively toward us, smiling oddly as they stepped directly into our paths—shaking my equilibrium all over again. On Fillmore itself, diverted traffic quickened near Pacific Avenue, re-routed trolley buses zapped and crackled along their overhead wires—making up for fares and time lost to StreetJazz’s long-play disruption.

          Paulen and I continued pensively beyond Calvary’s adjacent education center, its sleek, beige concrete linearity contrasting smartly with the multi-floor, white-to-tanner shade of the neighborhood’s boxy bay windows, alongside condo buildings’  matching ladder-and-landing fire escapes, chock full of potted planters and shrubs.

          By mid block, we were rendered speechless even more: a first glimpse of the vast open sky beyond Broadway, as if civilization and urbanity dropped off right then and there, the Bay and Marin hills beginning to reveal themselves. That’s about where the airship was now headed, slicing over apartment towers and backed-up traffic—slowly, deliberately, like felony manslaughter on further appeal.

         “Yessir, Saturn Return—I saw where there’s even gonna be a big New York play about it and everything,” I said, steeling myself anew. Then I started hearing sirens, sounded like up the block a ways toward Van Ness Avenue. Must have been ambient ambulance, racing to PMC Hospital emergency—no, shit there’s another one, with a rumbling pumper diesel roar, echoing through crowded hi-rise Pac Heights. Premonition, post-mortem: good God, it couldn’t have been there, could it? I scanned the eastward sky for billowing black smoke. No, she couldn’t have, not again, forgetting her cache of psycho meds. Just like her, getting EMT’d for another hypo coronary or half-brained stroke on the upper floors…

          “At any rate, nice Vickys,” Paulen said, shifting course. Coming up to Pacific Avenue, he pointed me toward a triad of last-stand stick Victorian houses—light blue to gray to understated gravel tan—all trimmed in cupcake crème, highlighted in the most appropriate richer shades. “Look better than I remember them to be.”

          “That corner spread there, the one with the city flag and Tri-Color up its pole,” I noted, over the smoky racket of a substitute diesel shuttle bus. “Ex-Mayor Frank Jordan’s place.”

          “So why is he the ‘ex’,” the professor asked, stuffing his new magazines into his attaché.

          “Oh, you never heard about the mayor’s infamous shower scene?” Cue taken, I crammed my folded newspaper more tightly under my right arm, flashing back on how Jordan was a true reactionary republicrat, the closest San Francisco politics came to right-of-center since Supervisor Dan White—until his notorious ‘Showergate’ interview fiasco brought the former police chief low.

          “Yeah, he invited a couple of radio jocks into the stall with him to hold a press conference in the nude. Instant laughingstock, political suicide—Willie Brown ridiculed the hell out of him, The City laughed him off the stage…”

          “Yet he appears to have arisen reasonably well from the ruins,” Paulen ran his hand lightly over the spear tips of Jordan’s iron-gated digs.

          “Helps to have a financier wife, a choice filantrop banker who’s really connected and sees to it the ‘Mayor De-elect’ lands junkets to the hilt.”

          “But of course,” Paulen admired the corner Victorian’s gilded gingerbread. “After all, that’s what such sugar mommas are for.”

          “Gotcha…anyway, not bad for a calcified ol’ Irish cop. If only Dan White had been so lucky back in the day.”

          “Yes, for want of a Lifesaver…so what are you saying? That Jordan was 58 when his shower scene hit?”

          “Close enough,” I said, as we passed beneath a lone scraggly overhang of Monterey Pine. “Maybe he was collateral Returnage, could have been the radio guys’s first rendezvous, for all I know.”

          What I did know, however, was I heard more wah-wah sirens. Wait, what if that was a sidewheeling hook ’n’ ladder, flashing full-blown yellow and red?  Could just picture her nodding off to burning incense and candlelight in her pitch-black curtained room, torching the ol place, once and for all. Reflective turn-outs storming the blaze, running hoses, slinging axes, ladders soaring four stories high into  scorching flame-overs. Rolling out caution tape by the roll, barking orders over squawking radios, the thrum of idling diesels. Naw, snap to, dodo—must have been a false alarm, another case of your Pavlovian panic and paranoia. Really, that had to be another place, another time, if not a whole other story…

          “Bit of a stretch…you make it sound as though everybody’s in Saturn’s crosshairs. Honestly, are you proselytizing, or just confessing something here,” Paulen probed, in lock step. “Besides, it all seems to be so anecdotal, where is the science in that?”

          “Proselytizing, who me? It’s only that I used to think the same way. Just dig into it, you’ll be intrigued by what you discover,” I glanced up at a Maypo-colored apartment building over across Pacific Avenue—fortress looking, with tall gothic spires, where a small crowd gathered on the far corner. “By the same token, there is at least one notorious second Saturn act I haven’t mentioned, doc…doc…”

          But by then, Paulen was once again tapping into his earphone, circling back down Fillmore Street several steps, apparently to raise his bars.

Care for more?

Chapter Eleven. Be it one,
two or three times over, Saturn
seems to dog them all along…