Chapter Thirty-Nine

“Virtuous cycles can beget 
vicious circles—some that 
can’t easily be squared.”

           “Hay’d Burpert—how dey hangin’?

          “Ova ta da Aquatic Pahk fa a showa?

          “Hit da Wharf fa sum scarf’n?”

          This sudden confrontation, grossly out of context, snapped me back to other, dimmer apparitions of Marina encounters past. Gray stringy hair, Methuselah beard framing his square blockhead, Jumpin’ Jackass sprang forth from between a couple of late-model SUVs. The barefoot, toothless freak boo-hand spooked us to our faces, then crouched to play air cello before three-point fixing to bound on along Bay Street—so many tokens, totems and spoiled remains rattling away in his tattered rucksack and bedroll.

          Couldn’t speak for Reese Paulen, but the park dweller creeped the bejeebers out of me: long dead reckoning, too distant to recall by name, just reminding me why I seldom came down around here anymore. My startlement paled, however, to the shrieking from an infant girl who was up in arms climbing out of her harnassed stroller. A harried Latina au pair struggled to control their four-wheeler as the freakface hopped and bounded around them.

          I reached to help steady their buggy, that au pair settling the youngster down, trying to place the odious spook from aeons ago. Inverse image: was I the only one seeing this? As for his part, Paulen shied coldly away—hinting he gathered that I was well familiar with such rough stuff.

          “Say wha? Den catch ya der, mah mannnn…

          “Yah, scor’n reel gooood…bettern Cliffad n Sherreee…”

          And then the mouthy cadger was off, nowhere to be found, at the moment I placed him as the old Aquatic Park Sarge, minus his fatigues, jump boots and cunt cap, likely long lost in the VA shuffle. Fool must have been hearing voices, like that’s some kind of excuse. Who doesn’t hear voices at one time or another, damn r-r-right. Either that, or he was remnants of the horny A.P. Baths minder, just another regressive trick of the mind.

          But comport, compartmentalize—business before displeasure, so I slapped myself on the back and pressed forward alongside Paulen—admittedly further unstrung, agitated, resolved to get the get just the same.

          Slicing toward us through this yawning stretch of Marina monotony was a screaming band of bikers-in-the-making, tearing up the sidewalk, toddlers on training wheels and tricycle plastic scooters. They had shot out like little bumper cars from the one-door garage of a relatively gorgeous mid-block hacienda. Spanish blanco, single-family splendor, stepping up three floors, laced with violet flowered vines, from low front wall to torch-lanterned doorway to ascendant balconies and bedrooms.

          “Well, one man’s Hamas is another’s Hezbollah, and Israel has even less use for those terrorist maggots than the Gaza’s Qassam Brigades,” said Paulen, avoiding any acknowledgement of the peculiar streetside ambush, determined to press ahead on his points. It was the emergence of Hezbollah that forced Israel to help spark a counter-resistance movement. But be that as it may, Hamas might want to be taking a lesson from the recent Hezbollah experience.”

          “You mean the 2006 carpet bombing of Lebanon,” I asked, finding such denial much less, er…do-able. “Taking out 1,300 Lebanese in 33 days, overkill to the extreme.”

          “Sorry, but Israel made its statement in the second Lebanon War, and has since washed its hands of that little contretemps.”

          “Of the wanton pounding and pummeling of a collateral country—way beyond Hezbollah’s southern nest?”

          “Lebanon harbors those Shia militants, doesn’t it? And Israel acted only after being provoked—after suffering seven years of rocket attacks from the north. Israel saw Hezbollah raid across the security zone and its U.N.-recognized border, grabbing two IDF soldiers, killing some others—for no reason whatsoever.”

          “But greater Lebanon wasn’t part of that.”

          “Makes no nevermind. An 8,000-man Shiite militia, backed by Iran and Syria, no less. So Israel could take no chances, do no wrong in that regard. Self-defense is sacrosanct. Thus any such response is just and proportionate. And the Jewish nation will continue to exercise that right and duty when it feels the need, building its defenses accordingly.”

          “Proportionate, as with the likes of Rachel Corrie,” I spouted, bracing for the martial art of conversation at 150 milliseconds, incidental repartee running to phonologic sparring to motor caustic weaponry. Doc’s sharpening articulation parrying my milder bouts of stuttering transcortical sensory obstruction at the occipital-parietal junction, on a temporal-global scale. “Then how come that air barrage on Beirut was totally offensive to everybody else? Arabs claimed it was sacrilege, collective punishment as a war crime. Even Israeli protestors took to the streets…while you make it sound like Israel can do no wrong.”

          “Because to them, Israel can do no right.”

sr dingbats

          I strained to regather, somewhat right myself, buying a moment, glancing across Bay Street toward a neat row of two-flats and Marina bungalows, most carrying on a common Mediterranean Revival motif, topped with red Terra Cotta tile crowns. Quietly shaded from direct sunlight, these had similarly been gentrified to solidly retrofitted home fronts by flush Marina old-timers, or relative newcomers who could swing the mortgages and quake insurance premiums.

          More and more, the latter were MBAces from Wharton, Sloan and Stanford, if not second and third generation family money via Marin, Orange County or enclaves east—well fixed to weather any seismic setbacks—modest on the surface alone. Some yups were out washing their Beemers, Infinitis and everyday Benzes in biz school sweats, frat shorts and fraying Charles Tyrwhitt poplin dress shirts, scuffling around their postage stamp driveways in logoed clogs or old pointy-toed Paul Smith wingtips. Another power couple oversaw the rug guy who was dialing up his van motor, pumping steam cleaner into their living room carpets. Drone, drone: that incessant hose flow was quickly sudsing through my brainscape clear over here.

          “Hey, I feel your pain and all…but isn’t that self-inflicted too? Hasn’t Israel overplayed its hand—and fought a pretty otherwise incompetent war, at least on the ground.” There, prod him some more, as if you really knew what the hell you were talking about…

          “That is your opinion, yet enough was enough. Israel couldn’t compromise her solemn duty to support and protect her citizen soldiers, or carrying back its fallen heroes—the ethos being, no soldier left behind.”

          “But to rescue two lowly troops, Israel unleashed its air force all over a neighboring country…”

          “How soon we forget that Palestinian terrorists had boated over from Lebanon in 1978 to kill more than a dozen Israelis in Tel Aviv,” Paulen said, not missing a step. “And this was before Begin and Sadat could hoist their Nobel Peace Prizes.”

          “Hmm, 1978, mighty shaky, but I do vaguely recall. Ariel Sharon in turn bulldozed into the Lebanon civil war in 82, right? Seized control of access to the Sabra and Shatila camps, neglected to protect them, paved the way for the Phalangist massacre. Some 3,000 Palestinian refugees…”

          “Israel was at war with the PLO at the time. Many of the Defense Minister’s measures were pre-emptive in nature,” doc said, with a didactic slap of my shoulder. “As for ’06, Israelis were not at all certain what Hezbollah and its cohorts had in store, scale-wise.”

          “Speaking of plans, what was the grand strategy there,” I sensed that the weeds were getting deeper here, plowing ahead anyway, feeling like I was on some Dinner-with-Avigdor walk-through. “An inept, last-minute offensive cooked up by a defense minister with no real military experience? Just so the prime minister could prove his manhood in an election year?”

          At the same time, pulling my attention back from the vacuum roar of that rug-sucking truck were the squeals of young parochial schoolgirls hop scotching on a pastel grid chalked over fissured sidewalk squares—pretty and Excel precise as an acrostic puzzle in the Sunday Times. Just west of that were devilishly drawn body traces, then multi-color tick-tack-toe cross lines, scrawled in with colorful bleepin’ words. Had to be the work of smart-ass Stuart Hall gameboys with pastel dust and time on their hands—couldn’t tell them from PG&E line excavation markings for yet another round of dig-and-fills.

          This scampy, subversive chalkwork stretched along the front of an equally colorful coral apartment building anchoring the Broderick Street corner—the most unnerving of which read, deth to bumfitrs. These sidewalk chalkings and a tangle of Razors turf-marked concrete around sculpted shrubbery that garnished the building’s Mediterranean frontispiece, complete with de rigueur white-crested detailing and flowery window boxes. Paulen glanced up at the building’s only real idiosyncrasy, a quaint little cupola above its red tile cornice, curious enough to attract the Andover/Yalie/Rhodes/London School downtowner crowd, even if only as diverted short-term renters-in-escrow waiting.

          “Look, I’m clearly not carrying Olmert’s water, but you are imputing some half-baked analysis yourself, my friend. There were very threatening long-range missile placements in Lebanon, courtesy of Syria and Iran. Moreover, Israel had satellite evidence. The launchers and infrastructure had to go.”

          “Pulverizing cities and a slew of civilians in the process—a little flyover kill, wouldn’t you say? God knows what Ehud will do next to pull Kadima’s fat from the fire…”

          “Crippled Hezbollah headquarters didn’t it? Plus a quarter of its fighters,” Paulen said pointedly. “It’s called getting the job done for Israel’s security along an extremely dangerous border.”

          “It’s called carpet bombing, if you ask me. While Washington blindly held Israel’s coat,” I said…go for it, tie down his hide right here. “Indiscriminate human and infrastructure damage—with diminishing returns—just like we did in Vietnam.”

          “Ad hominem criticism, Herbert. Israel’s always under the microscope. In any case, where’s the evidence of your implied incompetence? Some qualitative reasoning, si vous plez.”

          “Oh, I don’t know—that Hezbollah kept fighting and firing rockets non-stop throughout the onslaught, killing innocent, demoralized Israelis across the border,” I pressed, my right brain zeroing in more on his Anglo inflection, his classroom intonation—his seminar-affected stances and gestures. “Meanwhile, Hezbollah used Israel’s attacks to inflame the Arab Street and turn world opinion their way…”

          “Come now, they don’t need Israel’s help to do that,” Paulen chafed. “So let Hezbollah boast all it wants. Fact is, Shiekh Nazrallah himself has admitted he hadn’t anticipated the magnitude of Israel’s response. And their cross-border raids and attacks have subsided substantially ever since.”

          “But at what cost? The Lebanon operation has brought Israel world censure and a whole new level of Arab hatred,” I dodged the low hedge skirting a small acacia tree, shaped to fend off passing pisser dogs. “And who knows? Maybe Hezbollah is just lying low to reload, drilling in the Beqaa Valley, rebuilding their missile arsenal.”

          “Wishful thinking, Herbert. I suspect they have many wounds to lick, buildings and bridges to repair with other, fed-up Lebanese, at thatunlikely to cross that U.N.-recognized border anytime soon.”

          “Still, you can’t say Lebanon ’06 was an overwhelming success. Hezbollah did ultimately eke out sort of a split decision…”

sr dingbats

          Bay Street was all tone deaf and blindness from there on, nothing but prosaic off-whites and varying shades of buttoned-down tan, neighborhood-watch faces peering out from behind pleated drapery and varnished shutters, like they had something to hide or die for, no lie. Hereabouts, only the chirping of swallows and hummingbirds in stunted parkway trees and trim, shapely, teardrop spherical shrubbery brought this properly beautiful stretch alive.

          Yet across the way, a chatty, power-suited executress burst forth from the middle of three plainly misplaced plywood-modern apartment houses that squared off the remainder of this block in earthy tones, slanted rooflines and dim glass-block windowpanes. An investor relations or corporate governance type, she eagerly rolled her designer baggage over to a cap and vested driver, then ducked into his jet black town car, likely bound for a red-eye or L.A.. Whisking off, that Lincoln limo V-8 roar was the only action to speak of until we closed in on the corner of Baker Street. Here was where Bay Street opened wide, and with that went any relatively modest Marina District appearances.

          Salty sea breezes were picking up all the more, cross-drafting through the Marina intersection like Blue Angels fighter jets on Fleet Week maneuvers. No F-16s today, sorry; still, clear afternoon skies were gauzing some, so as to dull the fire red finish on that Saturn airship, now gliding over northward from one four-story apartment building to another—which cater cornered Bay Street at Baker.

          This was something of a gateway to posher, pricier digs: tan and white, with wine and sienna trim—that Spanish look, Italian flavor—brandishing polished brass mail casings, doorbells and kickplates, steel beam-fortified garage frames in reassuringly darker tones which appeared to run nearly a third of the way up the next block. But west of the starboard corner apartment box abutted a stylish cantaloupe-colored two-flat fronted with violet flowery vines. Just outside it idled a showroom new Maserati Quattroporte DuoSelec.

          “Bottom line, Israel flexed some muscle, an unyielding show of strength,” doc said, admiring his reflection in the Maz’s gleaming verde scuro trunk lid. “Toughness in a treacherous land—where self-defense and survival are sacrosanct. Never underestimate that power of that sovereign Judeo-Zionist imperative—even while others continue trying to dehumanize Israel as an outlaw state.

          “Even with Syria and Iran filling their caches and coffers?”

          “Ah, yes, Assad and his Alawite thugs constantly shoring up Hezbollah, threatening northern Israeli towns like Meron with its long-range missiles and chem/bio WMD, stoking all sorts of potential blood Baaths up there. Is it any wonder Israel and Syria are still essentially at perpetual war?”

          “I just wonder why Israel went and annexed the Golan Heights anyhow,” I noted, although momentarily startled by the territorial toe-to-toe yapping of two little neighbor spaniels.

          “Because Israelis don’t want Druse jihadis raining and reigning down on them and the Sea of Galilee.”

          “Then again, the real estate itself is primo, right,” I asked, exhaling with a wary edge—pacing, man, get with the feint and hook pacing. “Good ski slopes—cherry and apple groves…”

          “Granted, strategically so,” Paulen fussed with the hair curling over his earpiece. “However that doesn’t mitigate the border tensions Israel faces with Egypt or Jordan. Nor begin to account for its most heinous mortal enemy on the Persian side, that threat factor in waiting all around. This, to a nation of one-third Holocaust survirors and their kin. It is just basic Military Order 101.”

          “Meaning Iran and Ahmadinejad…”

          “Meaning a maniacal denier-in-chief who spews anti-Semitic venom and paranoid threats, who vows to annihilate the Jewish people and wipe Israel off the map—and he is but symptomatic of that thoroughly sick regime,” he suddenly finger jabbed at my chest. “Let alone the nightmare scenario of Tehran weaponizing nuclear missiles in underground bunkers, aimed at Haifa and Tel Aviv. We’re not talking about lowly Scuds anymore. Sooner or later, something must be done about that—as was with Syria’s reactor last year.”

          “Whew, you make it sound like one hell of a Promised Land.”

sr dingbats

          “Look, Israel is already surrounded by dangers and existential threats, with thousands of missiles pointed at it from every direction—case in point, that recent attack on young Israelis in Jerusalem. Point being, if Hamas can fire rockets from Gaza at will, imagine what Palestinian militants could do if they took over your so-called West Bank with no Israeli security, and Tel Aviv well within range. These are dire existential threats, Herbert. Paranoia has its place.”

          “But I guess you can’t say the same for the Palestinians…”

          Still another resurrected Mediterranean Revival job seized our attention, a decorous duplex with faux finished portal and gold leaf detailing, gobs of hand-made tile and stonework. Next door stood a Santa Barbara-style Spanish Colonial, custard hued, with mahogany wood and small square Aztec/Mayan ceramic tiles around its turreted portal. The khaki and onyx single home beyond that appeared far less remarkable until its inlaid mosaic tile staircase came to light—an intricate, festively colorful portal into an otherwise underdrawn proposition.

          Yet dull wasn’t the operative word directly across Bay Street. There, a comparatively grand Venetian façade bore something of a stippled tangelo faux fresco, with gold leaf details and glazed leonine medallions, copper flashing underpinning its ocher cupped tile roofline. At second glance, this money-good, urban villa look was more akin to those eight-figure palaces along Marina Boulevard.

          I was a bit more distracted, however, by a slightly shabbier apartment house directly across Bay Street—four stories, guacamole green—the sort of corner Marina produce crate that tumbled down so reflexively elsewhere in the ’89 quake. For grabbing me above and beyond that droning carpet cleaner was the grinding hum of a herringbone hardwood floor stripper through an open third deck window—decibel banging my eardrums something fierce.

          Rattling me no less was the snap opening of the coral painted garage door of this Maypo-textured building we were passing, clickered by an out-revving black Porsche Cayenne. The turbo SUV and sudden Genie ratcheting up of the Spanish arched door cranked my mental motor all the more.

          “Nevertheless, in strength there is security. In security, there is strength.” Paulen eyed me like I was a cross between Adolph and Gamel Abdel. “Jews learned that painful lesson when Palestinians massacred so many of them in the 1920s and 30s, when Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti backed Nazi Germany. They will never forget how the world abandoned them throughout the Shoah.”

          “Or that there were Arabs who actually helped them during World War II?” I averred to a young technoid sitting curbside in torn jeans, XXL World of Warcraft T-shirt and Deepak Chopra-style eyeglasses, lost in the tiny screen of his digital device.

          “Apocryphal anecdotes, at best,” doc sneered. “Indeed, by April, ’67, Israel had been guerilla terrorized and sniped at from all sides for 20 years. All those corrupt Arab despots saw Israel as easy pickings. Little did they realize that Israelis felt they were facing Holocaust II, were preparing thousands of hospital beds, digging thousands of gravesites—begging so-called allies for help that largely never came. Nevertheless, Israel prevailed in the Six Day War, as it prevailed again in ’73.”

          “Grabbing territory all around, and displacing, like, 700,000 Palestinians in the process. Overrunning their cemeteries and some of the holiest sites in the Muslim and Christian world—threatening to blow up the Dome of the Rock…”

          “Never did so, did they? Look, adverse possession in action—Israelis were simply feeling their oats, flexing their muscles, albeit with a deep sigh of relief. Besides, the Knesset proposed returning the Golan and ersatz ‘West Bank’ a few days later—June 19, 1967 to be exact. Yet just like ’47, the PLO threatened away any Arabs inclined to accept the magnanimity.”

          “Maybe they were still smarting from the whole attack—or from hiding in caves.” But what was this? Was I talking to a garage door or his outstretched palm…it was like talking to myself

          Our tensions were further heightened now by the grinding of a streetcorner knife sharpener, spinning wheels over some cutlery in the bed of his wood-canopied Ford Ranchero. The bearded bear’s kitchenware gig owed to an outsized Mediterranean white home framed by blooming rosebushes and low chain-link fencing. Full lemon trees added brilliant citron touches about the place, canary yellow picked up in the whimsical painting of an antique Riley touring car emblazoned on the three-story corner house’s garage door, a real-deal roadster parked inside. Such warm marigolds brightly complemented the Spanish tiled roof and idiosyncratic cupola. What a view that curious little turret must have had of the Presidio treeline, not to mention the spectacle we soon found unfolding before our eyes.

          “Whatever it took to secure and stabilize the Palestinian territories and establish defensible borders—part and parcel of the operation,” Paulen declared, with a flashy sweep of the hand. “Now Israel had a massive strategic intelligence and armor artillery presence up in the Golan. Makes me want to veritably ring ‘long live Israel’ proudly from the hilltops!”

          “Does make you wonder though if your victors are suffering some major spoilage. I mean, where did it get them? A 1975 ‘Zionism equals racism’ resolution in the U.N, and a Palestinian cause celebre ever since,” I again took note of doc’s familiar sapphire setting, third finger left. Really, was this some kind of test, some kind of goddamn oral exam?! “Guess spunky David has really become Goliath, after all, huh?”

          “Look,” Paulen bit his tongue, then caught a breath. “I’ll admit, no right-thinking Israelis anticipated these security measures would last some 40 years, much less yield the headaches and hell-raising that have ensued…”

          “Could be that’s the problem,” I shouted, over the roar of a new hybrid recycling truck burning Mazola biofuel. Right minds—at any rate, right-leaning minds—riding herd, walling off. Tell me, how does this bad neighbor policy make for greater security?”

          “And you would have Israelis beat a retreat behind the Green Line? Look at the Sinai, the Gaza mess. Why should Israel freely give up another hard-gained inch of captured territories? After all, the Arabs did attack them in the first place! I say, no earnest deposit, no return…”

          “OK, but no land, no peace…”

          “Wrong—no partner, no peace.”

          “So you’re saying Israelis should continue fighting ’67 battles until the exploding Palestinian population overgrows them?” Whoazit—ease up, dodo…green, red…stop, go… fits, starts…startin’ to overheat here, rethinkin’ about the Aquatic Park showers

          “Or until Ramallah freezes over, whichever comes last…”

          “Now I’m glazing over,” I kicked myself for daring to unpack and deconstruct all this in the first place. “You’re talking borderline madness…”

          “These are difficult issues, Herbert. What would you have them do?”

          “That’s a good question,” I once again scanned the Pacific Heights ridgeline, specifically that smoke screen still hovering above it, floating ever so slowly inland. “Especially since it seems that when Israel plays the security card, the Palestinians always double down.”

          “Hmph…on a different note, that is probably just smoke you are seeing up there,” doc quickly caught my drift. “Simply smoggy fog at worst.”

          “Yeah, but where there’s smoke…” And it wasn’t entirely blowing away. At the same time, not lost on me was the antipodal image of now viewing that billowing black squall from down here, instead of down here from up there.

          “So? It could be centered anywhere up that way.”

          “Well, I’m going by the sirens, and…” Yet here I was, riveted to this sore subject, slogging down this Mideast path, barely getting his dander up for all my trouble.

            “Probably an ambulance or something—heart attack scenario, forget about it.”

          “That’s what I’m afraid of, if not worse…” The smoke continued unfurling black to gray across Pacific Heights like an anvil top mushroom cloud, isolated flames shooting through—not unlike the gas-fed inferno over on Divisadero back in ’89.

         “Nonsense, Herbert, let us sally forth, shall we? Nothing you can do about it in the here and now.”

          “R-r-right, sally…” Yeah, above all, duty called, had to give myself a good talking to. So, God forbid, suck it up, time to keep plowing ass through this. Just pray away any homefires up there in the meantime, deal with a pax on both houses down here…

Care for more?

Chapter Forty. A cooling of the atmosphere, 
a change of tune, bring reflections on the 
peace process amid a fount of arts and 
flowers, a floating of resolutions on the waters…

…Or slightly more detailed
Chapter Forty+ …