Chapter Thirty-Four

“When headed on a collision
course, things can only
get more unstable.”

          “Close shave…

          “Too close for comfort…”

          Comfort?! Dude’s flat on his ass.”

          “Yah, in need of a major pick-me-up. Let’s do it…”

          Seemed brothers in from Oaktown for the weekend had been ganging up six to a cheapshit room at the notorious old Marina on Lombard’s motel row. Quick pit stop at the Divisadero liquor store, and the posse be wheelin’ out of the corner red zone, chillin’ large in their Bondoed black Isuzu Trooper with the chrome spokey rims, bloods be frontin’, already firin’ up Cohiba Dominicanos, Camel Wides and who knew what wacky tobaccy or white nose bowl. Passing around the nutcracker, the Cobra tall-boy Malts, bros were eastside representin’ the Bay, all inked up, stayin’ ghetto, puttin’ the socks and shoes back in those rhythm and blues.

          Reese Paulen and I had spotted them a little bit earlier, big deal scene outside their machine. One cat looked really pissed, pacing and screaming at the Isuzu’s driver, yanking on the sideview mirror. Then he went pounding on the hood and doors, ranting about getting dissed and cheated. Suddenly a side door opened, and this monster dude in a Diddy jacket and Laker lid pulled the rag ass back inside their Trooper like a bag of dirty laundry.

          Though keeping our distance across the intersection, we had still spotted the razor-cut eyebrows, gold-encrusted grillwork and copious zirconium bling. Those romeo pimps, over from International Boulevard, had been troughin’ at the Colonel’s on Fillmore, fillin’ out their black leather and Raider sweats, bloods hoodied up, gassin’ in their saggy trunks and jeans, tuggin’ gangsta sideways at their Tenacious D and Brixton caps. They be havin’ a righteous, mean-muggin’ look, homie, keepin’ it real, straight up—that what I’m talkin’ a-bout—go big, or go home—that right, dime that sucka out with a Glock 19 under the belt.

          So maybe the Trooper’s sound system was partly, distractingly to blame; could have been the hands-on phone. Go boom shizzle, shuffle samplin’ through the hip-hop, rappin’ for the cause. Clear channelin’ over the Soulstice R&B to some Biggie R.I.P., pre-setting em some ol’ LL Cool Jay-Z, punchin’ between the Hyphy, Fitty Cent, the badass gorilla Pimp C and Bun B: no Radiohead here, sucka’, no hair bands—n’even Foxy Brown nor Lil’ Kim. Gotsta be tendin’ the dreds, crackin’ back on the Project Headstart benefit tour   causa they’s goin’ down on a class A murder rap. Like that, bustin’ a booty call, meanin’ to O’Blige, keepin’ it real—real’s real can get.

          Or else d’ East Bay brothers be too busy workin’ street for the chop shop, grand theft auto, runnin’ blackmale and bunko bags for the corner boys and their chained Rotts back over on MacArthur Boul’vard. Bookin’ that lil’ white line between feelin’ it and dealin’ it, then tossin’ da burner phones, usin’ and abusin’, unnastand. Bein’ here, droppin’ hammers, throwin’ blows, jammin’ ‘em upsmashin’ and grabbin’, takeover heistin’, hoppin’ some tweakers, mean-muggin’ a coupla whitey tourists, gettin’ animal, splittin’ pimp slappin’ they muddafuckin’ lids. Tuff stuff, right? Tuff enuff…tuff enuff to flush a bluff. Tuff enuff to slip the cuffs…tuff enuff fa yo, powda’ puff. Jam you up—peace, out or else piece out—you feelin’ me?!

          At least that was the way it came across to us here, cater-cornerwise. Pulled together, the brothers gunned a U-ey away from the Liquor/Deli red zone across Divisadero, swinging away too fast and wide around on Chestnut Street. That spooked an already jumpy outbound cab driver, hustling over to grab a fare, who veered his green Ford taxi into the crosswalk, barely clipping a stooped geezer and his castered walker timorously negotiating Diviz. Who in turn glanced off a 30 Stockton trolley bus wheeling left into the intersection, tipping over in thrombotic fright. Amid the resulting ruckus and confusion from this case of crosswalk chicken gone wrong, bloods’ smokebomb Trooper shot up Chestnut, possibly makin’ for Doyle Drive and the GGB, aimin toward a DWB.

          Given the decibel level of the subwoofered Tupac into Mistah F.A.B., their SUV could very well have tuned out the unfolding mishap altogether: So don’t hate on us, man—had nuthin’ but love for the ol’ dude; sittin’ a little lower, ridin’ a little faster, hunred dollar millionaires—betting the sports book, laying points, dropping a dime on underlying motives and mitigating circumstances—everybody out mah face. That was simply how they rolled now, wasn’t it…

          “Good thing those thugs didn’t deck him square ,” said a corner building manager, who’d been sweeping his driveway, dropping everything to assist the old man.

          “They woulda dragged the ol’ coot a coupla blocks, given halfa chance,” said the stunned Arab cabbie, who had joined the Latino super in lifting the crumpled, petrified pensioner by his armpits.

          “Anybody get the license number of that clown car,” asked the MUNI driver, cell phoning his union rep—bus double-parked, its rear tire chocked with a yellow wedgie, several doors down Chestnut.

          “Plate was bent, shaded over,” I gasped, attempting to untangle, straighten the wheels of the elderly man’s walker, shaken by the sudden twist of metal, if not crack of pelvic and hipbones.

          “Looked to be some sort of temporary permit,” Reese Paulen said, as he collected together the contents of an undone tummy pack, then helped the cabbie dust off its bedazed owner. “Honestly, must be brutal being an old timer in this new age kind of town.”

          “Or just being a pedestrian,” I muttered, setting the walker aside in frustration, further rattled by the realization that the stricken man reminded me some of Abe Friedland, that grievously wounded grocer up Chestnut at Van Ness I’d aided way back in the day, bless his dear, departed soul.

          By then, sirens had converged: Two SFPD black and whites screeching into the intersection from opposite directions, a rescue squad ambulance splitting the seam on Chestnut, fire department engine company not far behind. The whole scene left doc and me stunned beyond all reason—our appetites draining like bladders at a stadium urinal. Two middle-aged white guys standing curbside, our heads swiveling to the squelching crosstalk of emergency radios. Paramedics loaded the moaning oldster onto a stretcher, into the red and gold van, then raced away, siren blaring Code 3 toward SF General Hospital.

          We standbys just held our ears, hoping against hope for the codger—another frail scuffler taken down by heavy breathing traffic. The building manager folded up that mangled walker, planning to hold it until the Marina senior got back on his feet. Patrolmen were scribbling witness accounts, checking their squad car computer databases, measuring any skidmarks, chalking a crosswalk body trace in fetal position, just in case. Sideswipes, collisions, chain reaction: Just when I was about to take up with the CU alum deflection. What did she know about him—chrissake, maybe even about him and that little one? What was I missing here…

          We spilled what we had seen into an officer’s notepad, albeit over the wire clacking of turning trolley buses. Duty done, we mutually concluded the time was right to ease off Chestnut Street altogether, making tracks out Divisadero, bound for the Marina’s homier parts, despite my deepest reservations.

          “Our daily deed, huh,” I said, as coursed up Diviz, with traffic moving again, getting a gunning start up the steep hill to Pacific Heights, where that smoke and other sirens had yet to clear. “There’s usually so little positive reinforcement around here lately for good, responsible behavior…”

          “Hmph, wouldn’t know about that, but I do suspect this wouldn’t happen so starkly in Boulder,” Paulen replied, still a bit rattled by the accelerated impact of that streetcorner chaos. “And daresay a body might even be safer in a beleaguered Tel Aviv.”

          There he went again, back on his Mideast trip. What was with this fixation, anyway? I hadn’t had any substantive discussion, huh? Really? Well, I can parse, I can propose. I can debate stuff, can still discourseyah, I can hang, if need be. Seriously, I’ve got this…

          “Really…well, if things are so hunkered down and trying for Israel, how about squaring me a couple of things,” I sighed, shuffling back to business, long past time to push the envelope—hell, the whole tablet. “You know, get your take on where things stand over there these days.”

          “My take? I’ll certainly give it the ol’ college try.” Doc stared off Bayward out the Divisadero corridor. “But if I’m reading you correctly, this little reconciling of ours won’t be collegial for long.”

          Okay, I’ll show him—Ill be as devilish an advocate as I can until I trigger him. Crap, if only he’d chosen a different, more collegial topic line…maybe like Sarah’s Paleo world view or sweethearts of the rodeo. “All right then, let’s get down to brass tacksonomy,” I double checking my posture, ready to stir anew, turning up the heat as the recipe required. “So far, I’ve listened patiently to your whole presentation on Jewish heritage and Israel, right? Well, I in fact have been reading up on this Mideast thing on my own of late. Checking it out from all the angles, looking at all the sides, trying to cut through the conceits and deceits all around. And I’ll be damned if I can figure out why the Israelis and Palestinians can’t just meet head-on, butt heads on this final status stuff. Or at least see that some stubborn-ass heads roll the hell out of the way. So help me out here, doc. I mean, are any efforts really being made to resolve that mess?!”

          “On whose part?

          “On any part.” Then again, how else would I have a prayer of getting him to spill?

          “Hard to say, Herbert.” His eyes drifted to an emerging view of the Bay harbor far ahead. “There are issues upon issues in the Middle East, layers upon layers to address. But you never know, wheels are always turning on some level or another.”

          Over across Chestnut, several garbage men in yellow plastic bib coveralls rumbled out of that deli-liquor store, downing Monster energy drinks, busily scraping their Lotto tickets with an eye toward early retirement. Another turning trolley bus clacked wires through the mid-intersection overhead junction switch, cutting between us and a corner storefront S&L as we gravitated slowly across Divisadero.

          Yet another, outbound 30 Stockton bus wound past to its Broderick Street terminal, power poles sparking, popping, dropping on contact with the wires above. Startled all the more, I shot a parting glance up Chestnut toward the Presidio, an approaching team of doper animator/designers passing some bud between buds, tapping their handy Xboxes or Wii-dgets, logged off as they were from their 3-D Alienware workstations. Rumors had it they were in development on an epic featuring Kingfisher George as a great silver manatee in a terabyte sea, swimming anti-heroically against the current and the Hollywood sharks, climactically devouring Dreamworks and Pixar.

          Lucas Digital’s red brick wall of a dreamy campus beyond them was topped with tree greenery like parsley sprigs on slabs of broiled salmon, a rising mound of fog-tipped trees behind. Some view, but with traffic hindrances aside, we pressed more deliberately up northward along the western, now slightly shadier side of Diviz.

          “Well, there are other, more pressing problems in this world, aren’t there,” I said, pedal to the meddle, time to be steppin’ on the gas, dig that scene out of him howsoever. “Why’s it still so road blocked. I can’t even figure out who’s really the road and who’s the block.”

          “Easy, just follow the road map…”

          “Yeah, so where’s that leading anybody? To a dead end, far as I can tell. And if you know so damn much—carving up the West Bank with barbed wire fences—like, to divide and conquer? What’s up with that?!”

          “No, it is simply to deter and secure—containing Arab infiltrators who refuse to come to the peace table,” Paulen said, somewhat taken aback. “Terrorists who keep playing the blame game, and plot to sabotage any peace efforts Israel pursues in good faith.”

          “But how’s IDF jigsaw puzzling the place help things?”

          “Look, as the Palestinian Authority shuts terrorism down, Israel will open territories up…end of your jigsaw security,” he continued, pausing to breathe in the salty sea breezes. “However, as the Palestinians screw up, the Israelis will screw down. On the other hand, as Abbas’s Fatah steps up against Hamas, Israel will step down, so shall the peace talks renew, simple as that.”

          “Hmph, peace talks, Mideast peace…that’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one. It’d take nothing short of divine intervention…”

          “Either that, or early elections.”

          As we drifted out from the intersection, that patrol car and green taxicab pulled cautiously away, wheeling over the freshly stenciled crosswalk body trace, which then lit up in the afternoon glare like bedsheet sperm under ultraviolet detection. The buzz and diversity of Chestnut’s commercial corridor—for this one day, at least—quickly gave way to the Marina District’s pastel residential pale. Proceeding up Divisadero, we slipped around another huddled mass at the next MUNI bus shelter, most of them geared in full-blown black and orange, bound for the Giants-Dodgers nightcap, arctic provisions in hand. Would that I could have Phoned in along with them to McCovey Cove.

          “Now, now—these things take time. But rest assured most Israelis want peace, and Palestinians need it, my friend,” Paulen eyed me long and strong. “So why the flushed red face?”

          “Happens whenever I realize that the situation over there has been a headache for as long as I can remember.” I couldn’t help but replay a flashback circa ’78, from Camp David to the Holocaust to Marquette Park.

          “Headache,” Paulen pounced, “Headache for you? Why would that be?”

          “Justa headache, OK? Jeesh—trust me,” I sputtered. Still, I was resigned to using these Middle East didactics more ardently now, holding onto any semblance of stable sanity vis-à-vis doc here, lest there be any doubts.

          Straight ahead, Diviz was a bright, relatively wide thoroughfare—out which that police car sped off in a north and westerly direction, chase lights flashing fore and aft. Once past a pair of four-story apartment buildings, we strolled along a trim row of bulbing Bay windows, bounded on both sides by wall-to-wall 2-3 flat houses like a CPI bar graph in Fortune magazine—tan, chalk white, beige, pastel stucco with red Spanish tile crowns—all the way up to the Marina Green and masts of harbored sailboats on San Francisco Bay. Made me wonder what She actually would have made of my current trajectory, after all this time.

          This glary vista of the District’s zoned uniformity was sliced by the Jefferson Loop’s overhead trolley wires, as though by a cheese cutter through a brick of Romano. Floating above it all now was that red Saturn airship, like a clean cotto salami over the chopping block.

          “You must mean because of the Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks.”

          “The roadblocks and checkpoints—all of it, the whole bloody shmeer,” I answered, forehead tightening, about hatband high. “That Camp David Two collapse was about the time I started tuning it out altogether…”

          “Really? Mid 2000 was about when I started paying closer attention—given how Ehud Barak’s and Shimon Peres’s magnanimous peace efforts were so irresponsibly dismissed. But I’m surprised you would have given a rat’s pitute in the first place.”

          “Well, had my reasons,” I said, latently angry at myself for ending up one of those brainier types who know enough not to be poor, but not enough to get out of being so—or out of this, for that matter. “Anyway, the whole lot of them over there are more addicted to the process and posturing than interested in real peace, if you ask me.”

          “Look, Barak laid out a deal that gave Palestinians over 90% of what they demanded,” Paulen said, “but Arafat’s the one who caved and walked away.”

          “Yeah? The way I heard it, neither side trusted the other. Besides, Arafat was a prisoner of his constituency, the PLO would have offed his ass if he’d have signed on…”

          “Hogwash, he was just Yassir being Nossir—never doing a thing for his people if it didn’t line his pockets and polish his brass.”

          Young joggers blew by us, sleek, logoed missiles aiming for the gyms or Crissy Field. We in turn stepped around oldsters lugging plastic grocery bags full of produce, dairy, transnacks and soup cans from the Marina Supermarket—pausing, gasping for breath, counting the blocks back to their in-law garden apartments. I caught myself idly reading the garage sale signage and lost jewelry flyers taped to gray metal utility poles, atop which waved banners for another upcoming AIDS Walk or Race for the Cure.

          Dog walkers quietly coaxed their sniffing leash pack away from sparse parkway acacia and ficus trees, other masters gumbled to themselves as they scooped up and bagged the stinking remains. Then again, all canine Cocytus broke loose when a feisty Lakeland tangled with a short-faced French bulldog over territorial rights to a well worn midblock fire hydrant, their respective owners pulling apart the bouncy terrier from his breathless little snub-nosed rival. An aging, aproned housewife bolted out onto her balcony, yelling as if to shoo them all off, visibly weary of all the barking, snapping, growling, yapping and whimpering going on out front of pink-and-apricot home, while holding her shrinking Maltipoo to her bosom like a first-born in the maternity ward.

          “Still and all, why then didn’t Barak keep Ariel Sharon’s contingent from marching on the Temple Mount,” I asked, reaching to stroke the terrier, ignoring that wheezing, butt-ugly little French shit machine with the obscenely long tongue. “Their scene at the Western Wall—they say that’s what really triggered the uprising, you know.”

          “That would have been like trying to keep Clinton away from the White House pantry,” doc replied, over the din of doggie drama and neighborly mea culpas that ensued. “Yet Sharon was merely exercising his right. Actually, Intifada II was just another wave of deluded Palestinians looking for a reason to eat their weapons. Anything could have triggered them. Why do you think they call it suicide bombing?”

          “Hopelessness and desperation lead to desperate measures sometimes. Nothing funny about that…”

          The dogs were soon drowned out by a string of SUVs roaring by on Divisadero, presumably in hot pursuit of Golden Gate Bridge traffic and Marin County retreats beyond. Nearing the corner, we met up with the pesky lawnmower buzz of a yellow and red Go-Kar pulling up at Francisco Street. A giddy tourist twosome revved at the stop sign, poring over a city map as the rig’s GPS-pegged recording blared a Marina narrative lighter on historical roots than on 1989’s earthquake devastation. The guide spiel triggered a tsunami of Loma Prieta imagery, set me to looking much farther up Divisadero to Northpoint for gas-fed smoke and flames, with little synaptic let-up as we crossed Francisco toward Bay Street.

          “Look, not to put too fine a point on it: but no partner, no peace,” Paulen skank eyed the squawky tour cart. “Besides, do you honestly think Israelis were going to stake their very lives on an oversexed, scandal-ridden administration halfway out the White House door?”

          “Well, turned out PM Barak was all but history too,” I steeled, rather looking down at an unevenly cracked sidewalk. “And some Israeli opposition leaders even wanted the Palestinians to reject his Wye River offer. I mean, who’s fooling who?”

          “Fooling whom…”

          “Whom…” I stumbled, terra unfirma, feeling increasingly on the defensive one more time, what with Paulen playing grammar queen here. My hippocampus had shifted into overdrive, retrieving declarative fragments wily-nily from the four far folds and recesses of my brainpan. Had been away from Strunk & White for a good long while, alright, but all was not so locutionally lost.

          “Whom is the proper usage there, my friend,” doc said, pedant that he had apparently become over his tenured years. “Regardless of what any revisionist grammarians may say.”

          “Whom?”

          “Make that who,” he added, with a hint of growing consternation. “Good lord, man, where have you been since your CU days?”

          Before I could answer, before I could even recollect all that, the next temblor hit—this one no major rattler either, likely a 3.5 Richter or so. Nevertheless, my self-composure liquefied all over again, fiery memories came to the fore, shaking me to the core. I could but just keep on walking, bracing for doc here to say, ‘take that’. But, yeah, oversexed— precisely what I wanted to hear…

 Care for more?

Chapter Thirty-Five. Amid debating
facts-on-ground, and hardening of
positions, comes a vivid backslide
toward more quavery ground…