Chapter Thirty-Seven

 S/S/Sensitive stuff

 Know more/Know less. 
More about Israel/Palestinians than you may
care to follow, along with the further drama of
the Loma Prieta Earthquake, 1989.

“In this topsy-turvy world,
it isn’t easy to right yourself
when you’re faced with what’s left.”

             Vvmnnnnnnnnnnvzlopfff…vvmnnnnnnnnnnnnnnvzlopffff…An orange coveralled city worker stood at the control panel of a new white vacuum flusher truck, his partner guiding a huge coiled hose and nozzle that sucked sand and sediment out of nearby Bay Street sewers and drains. The monster rig’s blower noise damped our walking conversation; its proactive maintenance drew me back further into liquefaction before the current overflow of facts.

          “Whoa, easy doc,” I said in earnest, though welcoming the hard-earned anger. “We’re just discussing, right? Schoolin’ days, like you said, classroom give and take, chopping it up. Don’t throw the baby out…”

          “Well, I must admit red flags did go up when you began maligning Israelis…”

          “Hey, did I say anything about Israelis in general? Nossiree. So don’t go putting words in my mouth, okay,” I replied, rattled by the commotion, as was Marina serenity up and down the block. “I’m only saying, it’s not the folks, just some of their strokes—policy-wise, like that…”

           “Say again?” Reese Paulen looked me all over—cupping his ears once we neared the roaring sanitation truck. “And ‘wronger? What does that even mean?”

           “Aww, nothing,” my voice raised, what with the sewer truck going into overdrive to dredge up deeper line traps of landfill residue. “Point is, two perceived wrongs don’t make a right. But two misperceived rights can make for a long, drawn-out wrong.”

           “Stop circling the tree and hike your leg, Herbert. Say what’s on your mind…”

           Yes, what was on my mind…or minds. I had to admit, I was back to rummaging around the mental attic some, poking through the crawlspace a little bit more. Brainscape, mindspace—whatever they called it, there was no getting around the cranial beast, still no getting my head around that. Anyway, I couldn’t stop this indelible imagery, the multidimensional cubist refraction generated for all to see, in vivid 32-bit hex color. It may help explain the persistent drift in and out of retro mode. Drilling down, through the landfill, mud and sludge to solid bedrock. Now and then, I think about it—then and now…

          Yet after, aftershocks, tremors all over again, back to Marina Quake ’89reminded that, ground dedicated to San Franciscos rebirth in the wake of the 1906 earthquake was torn asunder by the next biggest bang to come along. Loma Prietas thrusting right lateral slip had kneaded this sand-filled former lagoon, brackish bay water flooding up, saturating the grains, setting much of the Marina District in violent motion, relentless as a stadium wave. The underlying mess oozed like raw syrup down Pierce and Alhambra Streets, erupted in localized volcanoes through fractured asphalt on Mallorca and Casa Way. Water pressure had hit bottom and the sewers were spitting up. Geologists diagnosed it as acute liquefaction, and the worst part was all that had been dragged along for the ride.

          Turn any corner, substructures had risen, ceilings had fallen—load walls had caved and crumbled in unbearably unimaginable ways. Four-story apartment buildings folded like circus tents to but two or three upper floors, crushing long-term tenants, housepets, garaged cars—anyone or anything so shortsighted as to have chosen lower rent over a view. Charming six-figure matchboxes snapped like stick figures off their slab foundations, some twisting grotesquely and downsliding into heavy traffic. Others knelt for forgiveness onto the Marinas narrow, winding side streets—many now clogged thoroughly with haphazardt iron railings tangled into tan, twisted fire escapes, which rained down around brick faced lower floors.

          Crushed, flattened in the process were furnaces, boilers, major appliances—not to mention erstwhile garage spaces full of premium marque sports and luxury wheels. When possible, volunteers and Samaritans unknown had already propped up tee piles of shingled alluvium. Singed off-white and pastel stucco had peeled away like stale birthday cake icing, exposing splintered lath and plaster, bad drywall, weathered redwood slats and compound-fractured framing. Plumbing pipes, black wroughtering walls and bay window casings with salvaged 2x4s. Riveting, indelible scenes surfaced of splintered 4x4s holding up whole sliding structures, like so many corrupted third-world autocrats.

            But beyond the gutter mounds of slag and buckled pavement, the steaming heaps of household refuse piling up on sidewalks to either side, what really started getting to me were visions of local laggards stumbling out curtsied, parallelogram doorways and pretzeled window casements with nary the clothes on their fat, sassy backs, leaving everything they’d long cherished and hoarded to be compacted into drenched layers of furniture, furnishings, wall hangings and housewares, floor by caving floor. Glimpses of others defiantly tunneling in and out of their precarious properties, clutching lockboxes and irreplaceable family photos of wool-suited survivors of 1906’s 5:12 AM quake, or clawing furiously on all fours through the rubble of their lives to rescue pet cats and dogs. Then there were the aged and immobile, rent-controlled into place for decades, too panic-stricken to budge from their mashed and mangled routines—even as their shrinking worlds crashed down about them. That spectre only spread more viciously as emergency sirens wailed from block to block.

          Yellow caution tape wrapped off the most hazardous damage—detached homes, kneeling 18-unit apartment buildings, toppled cactus palm trees, dismembered columns and cornices, entire upended streets such as Bay. The cumulative gravity of this scattershot havoc hit me like a load of pulverized masonry. Some devastated, others at first glance unscathed: Yet most structures were left with foundations uprooted, iron security gates sprung open wide. Swarming emergency responders and Red Cross workers attended operosly to the most dire, continuing to triage injured, paramedics CPUing the latest shock and coronary cases, intensive caring for critical conditions on the spot, ambulances rushing near-fatalities away in a motion blur of flashing red lights…

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           “I’m tellin’ you,” my head now retroactively spinning like the sewer truck’s vacuum turbines, alarmed as I was by roiling replay. “Maybe we really should just split instead and be headed back up to higher ground…” Got so I wondered was it he talking to me, or me talking to he, or us? Was he grilling me or me grilling he…or him, or us? And what did this all have to do with the price of sweet pinas anyhow?

           “Nonsense…wouldn’t hear of it,” Paulen replied, with a nod toward proceeding further out Bay Street.  “Not when we are actually getting somewhere here.”

           “Seriously, the wind is picking up, and it gets to be pretty much wide open from here.” Besides, you’re all but calling me Mel Gibson or David Duke because you think I’m not totally drinking your Kool-Aid.”

          “No need to go flipping your kaffiyeh. Let’s just hang in there a bit, for sake of some candid exchange—as you said, chopping things up,” he urged, fiddling with, repositioning his earset like some talking head on CNN.

          “OK,” I sighed, mindful once again of the deal at hand, gripping on my newspaper, feeling for that envelope, still snugly interleaved. Flashpoint, dial back some… compartMENTALize, remember?!  “I’ll see you through to the Palace grounds, that’s it…”

          “Now, now—I meant nothing by those comments—they simply came in the heat of our revealing give and take,” doc replied, grabbing me firmly by the elbow. “Honestly, you are altogether misinforming the implications of my inference. That’s not necessarily what I was implying in the slightest.”

          “What-ever,” I said, mildly exasperated, no more status quo ante here, yet relenting just the same—while recognizing a mental Post-it note that I had finally hit a rawer, mother nerve. Now, back to the feints and jibe-jabs. “ All I was wondering was, like, how does that unfettered settlement stuff lead to settling things over there? It just seems overlooking, giving in to settler extremism may not be the best road map to a final status negotiations, that’s all.”

          “Or two-state illusion,” Paulen eased off some himself, back from the didactic brink. “Most of which Tel Aviv signed onto long ago, I might add, beginning with Sharons vow to take down some of those settlements. In any case, he reaped little or no reciprical measures from the Palestinians, only more accusations and claims of Geneva violations.”

          I again found myself drifting in and out of eras: Most ominous then, however, were the City’s full-scale Winnebago-sized heavy rescue units, for these P.D. and F.D. vans invariably led to even higher, more excruciating drama on these very streets. Inside and underneath the truly destroyed addresses, firemen in neon-banded black turnouts dug after the screaming and most hard-pressed distressed. These would have been the trapped, pinned down, cold-cocked, buried, asphyxiated and comatose—with broken limbs, lanced organs, crushed skulls and fractured pelvises. Those stress-stroked and in full cardiac arrest screamed out for the fearless rescue and recovery adrenaline junkies burrowing in with Jaws of Life, pickaxes and all sorts of hydraulic spreaders to save them. Else-wise, there were the inevitable cadaver dogs leaping in and out of these grisly seismic sepulchers like foxhounds through Westminster hoops—methodically combing for rigor, sniffing out the dreaded early de-comp.

          Still, amid all this chaos and destruction, the emotionally moving Marina walk-through was turning into more of a moving carnival. Stunned early risers bearing witness were being overtaken by hopped-up rollerbladers and O-C habitual joggers begrudging the detours. Dazed, clinging couples reorienting amid their smoldering possession were being crowded by site-seeing tourists snapping Kodak moments against said ruins. Smug, thrill-seeking couples from Cow Hollow cited their foresight in leasing on more solid ground; displaced Scott Street residents clutched meager belongings, vowing never to return here, now belonging nowhere at all…

           “Well, Tel Aviv must have signed with disappearing ink, since settlements still expanded,” I snapped to—now scratching, arching my back. There, that oughtta get me some more run. “I mean, why do they need to be moving in so fast and furiously, and getting so aggressive about it? What’s with land grabbing Palestinian homes under the guise of no proper building permits—only to take Israeli control over disputed West Bank towns? Or settlers tormenting, attacking basically innocent Palestinians. Crippling their growth with a crazy-quilt of buildings, trailers, shacks and hilltop security encampments. All to mollify Shas and the rest of the Orthodox right, let alone messianic Zionists.”

          “Hmph, shame on you, Herbert,” doc cried, looking me up and down with scalpel eyes. “Honestly, Israeli authorities have been clamping down on settlers just as hard as on the Palestinians—even so far as tear gassing ultra hardliners out of Biblical buildings in Hebron and Meir Kahane’s Kfar Tapuah. Moreover a Hebron, once the hallowed Kingdom’s of Judahs first capital, that Jews had lived in for three millennia, before being driven from by Arabs in the Tarpat pogrom. Besides, Israelis are moving toward building up, not outward on their god-given ground—limiting sprawl, enabling a good many Palestinian construction workers to feed their families!”

          “Yeah, until Oz Unit commandos come along, echoes of Lydda…” Again, with the era-aches: Then entered the multimedia hounds: photo-oping shutterbugs, motor-driven staffers, hungry stringers on spec, low-rez videographers with battery packs wearing and weighing them down. Massive network satellite trucks now ringed the perimeter, on-air Eyewitness teams milking the story, while news copters and diverted sports blimps hovered overhead for that signature live-feed panorama. Rumors spread of 70 deaths and counting, as how a dying Quayle was on his way with Bush 41’s blessing, Mayor Agnos to usher Mr. Potatoe Head around for some quick FEMA relief—an earlier iteration of Brownie doing a heck of a job, surveying the Big Easy, beignets and Tasse des Monde in hand.

           But all the trespassing, the suspicious poking around seemed to be putting distraught residents even further on edge. Old Marina salts with little left to lose were nevertheless getting territorial. Up to here with inane gaper questions about what it was like, and media ambushes, competing notepads and microphone invasions on ‘how did they feel’, many locals were going from shell-shocked to surly. Incisive, invasive: enough already with the bloodsuckers and bounders. Some homeowners had begun stringing clotheslines, extension cords and knotted sheets around their property lines, hauling besoaked furniture, flooring and whole wardrobes out of sagging abodes while they still could—so many apartment dwellers having no such access for evac.

         Streets filled all the more with shock sniffers and idling curious, with assorted roaming rubble rousers, locals along Beach and North Point took to sitting watch on their plaster-dusty sofas and easy chairs, right there out front in what passed for their one-car driveways—vigilantly sizing up the busybodies on parade, culling mere looky-loos from the looky losers and looters. Chain smoking old-timers sat guard with transistor news radios and splintered joist sticks in hand, stank-eyeing the souvenir snaggers and devious skateboarders with bulges in their pockets, not exactly happy to see any of them, wives dutifully salvaging plants, bedding and paintings, or simply standing by, nervously stroking their whimpering butterscotch Papillions.

           As rumors swirled of neighborhood vigilante teams forming to sentrify all the vicarious vultures, Marina streets grew less congenial and bicycle circus-like, a bit tenser. Building inspectors were already red-tagging dozens of structures for demolition, barring entry to harried residents with no place else to go. Army troops deployed from the Presidio to quell or contain any spreading disturbances, everybody hyper and under threat of blindsiding aftershocks, or an even Bigger One, courtesy of the San Andreas faultline. Although at least unlike in 1906, these weren’t the wooly doughboys marching in from the Montgomery Street parade grounds to take things over—an instant occupying army, making The City’s misfortunes even worse…

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         “I happen to be more familiar with Amos Oz, thank you very much,” Paulen said presently. “Moreover, some Area C settlers have even been seeking buy-outs to move out of your West Bank altogether. Most will not be bought off, however, for where else are they going to go? Judea and Samaria are home. They’re certainly not going to allow being banished anymore. Jews may know when to leave a place, but they surely know to stay put there.”

          “Still and all, isn’t this ’67 green-line jumping another reason Israel is catching so much global heat these days? Like Washington scolding how ‘unhelpful’ settlement activity can be to the peace process, since Oslo at any rate?”

          “Peace process? Whose peace process,“ Paulen glanced about at the immaculate, bushy Spanish-style homes and two-flats, fresh eggshell white to vibrant pastels, lining Bay Street on either side. “But it’s not as though Israel’s government isn’t responsive. Just consider all the news footage of mounted Israeli police removing settlers from unauthorized outposts like Beit El and Amona…how utterly gut wrenching that is.”

          “Then again, how about what’s been going on in Hebron,” I countered, my duplex mind crossfiring like an optical peripheral scanner. “Jewish settlers seizing Palestinian homes or demolishing them altogether? Where’s the peace and harmony in that?”

          “Israeli authorities are forcibly evicting hard-liners in Hebron, as well,” Paulen huffed, as we slipped between plastic tricycles and Radio Flyer wagons scattered about the lawn-trimmed sidewalk. “Even though Hebron is a different story entirely.”

          “They’re illegal settlers on the West Bank, right? Mostly on the government dole yet. So, what the hell’s the difference with that…”

          “Hmph, the difference is Hebron has special resonance for the Jewish people, especially when it comes to such Torah scholars. Namely Kiryat Arba—burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, as per the Book of Joshua. Jews were Hebronians for 1,800 years before rioting Arabs annihilated them in 1929. So now, many of the settlers feel they are reclaiming their divine rightful Jewish land.”

          “But the Palestinians’ Muslim Cemetery and Ibrahimi Mosque,” I said, bent on straddling my chronic ping-pong turbulence. “The sidelockers and righteous kippots can’t  erase all that…”

          “Well, many of the ultra-Orthodox settlers do believe they are doing God’s work, regaining ordained control of the entire biblical tribal land, from which Jews were for so long exiled—rights and religion, arm in arm.”

          “Yeah? Tell it to the Christians and Muslims—especially Palestinian protesters slinging those stones at the Bil’in wall, who need permits for their holy places in Jerusalem. Hell, I’ve read where undercover Mossad agents are even tossing rocks to rile up Palestinian kids so Israeli soldiers can fire back with rubber bullets and sound weapons.”

          “Nonsense, I take your dubious accusations with a grain of salt,” he bellowed, that sewer rooter truck rumbling by, aiming for another muck clogged manhole up at Broderick Street. “In the final analysis, our enduring lesson is, ‘never surrender, never again!’ To some, settler reclamation is no less sacred in these thorny times.”

          See, now and then I wanted to dig in and help out, I really did. Trouble was, I had this fear gnawing at me that I might be of more assistance back over on Fillmore Street. Truth was, all the yellow crime-scene tape and auxiliary cops shouting ‘move on’ or ‘steer clear of those downed wires’ were taking their toll, as were the sobbing District snobs turned homeless slobs, the buckled sinkholes, the rolling teardowns, the chainsaw brigades uncovering another missing person. Getting to me were so many heaps of soaked mattresses, warped paneling, pulverized dinnerware, sprung cabinetry, legless dinettes and spindled Venetian blinds.

             Sparks and cinders combusting in the sooty air, blankets of granulated plaster, pipes seeping sewage, leaky noxious gas fumes set to blow us away: Sirens howled relentlessly toward General and Letterman Hospital; sub-par contractors had already begun sneaking in to reframe, shore up and square off wobbly structures with pounding nail guns, owners winking-and-nodding before city taggers could shut them out. Radio forecasters bulletined that rainstorms would not break the earthquake weather until the weekend, at best. Water remained down, power out…and it was still so stiflingly damn sultry and hot…

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          “But does your sacred reclamation mean blessing West Bank roadway shakedowns, or blind eyeing outlaw outposts beyond the ’67 borders,” I was no more comfortable with current conditions, for that matter.  “I mean, while Israel’s holding tight on the purse chains, er, strings…”

           “Look, Israel has been doing its part to ameliorate that situation, even while terrorists blow up fuel trucks, or lay in backpack explosives filled with nails and ball bearings. Those twisted terrorist animals who would rather kill than build. IDF and police forces have been quietly easing up on offensive operations of late. You see, not all Israelis can be painted with such a broad, biased brush. ”

      Nope, better then to follow cockeyed street signs and those pole-taped scrawls beseeching the displaced to pull District victims back together again in streetcorner caucuses. Sure, over Fillmore way, where normally price-gouging Chestnut Street shops had set up free coffee and pastries at the Marina Middle School; even Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio might queue up there for some hardship vouchers and post-quake nosh.

          And yet, if this bad here, what must it have been like over there? Besides, the road over from North Point, these Tilt-a-Whirl arteries, the roller coaster streets, would likely entail a reckoning with what was said to be the Marina’s Ground 2.0. That would be: the thoroughly collapsed chicken coop of a four-story apartment building at 2 Cervantes, spilled like so many crushed egg crates out onto Fillmore Street, with resulting death traps untold, also threatening a cross-corner 76 gas station and its leaching tanks.

          Still, thereabouts I dreaded and headed, like walking barefoot on a waterbed, mindful of Richard’s past failings, whether he was genuinely up to the task, myself fixing to looky-loo like crazy for Her—praying for a clean, clear escape, bracing for a rescue operation, fearing a recovery mission of last resort. No, not againchrist, what that had wrought…get on outta…enough, already…STOP it!!!

          “Hey, no fair—I’m not talking about all Israelis. Am only talking about the settlements,” I shied away from all sorts of longshots and shortfalls past, now that we reached the Broderick corner, as well, again within view of that tapering Pacific Heights smokescreen. “This whole occupation ad infinitum situation…”

          “Ah yes, so it’s bad news, not bad Jews, is it? Keep telling yourself that,” Paulen was plainly irritated by the city sewer truck, which was already snaking a mid-intersection fire cistern with its gargantuan caterpillar yellow hose. “And how convenient, your preoccupation with the so-called ‘occupation’. Need I remind you the settlements do happen to help provide a security buffer. Hmph, as if a sudden terror attack anywhere in the country wouldn’t vindicate their defensive measures overnight.”

          “Terror from without…or tear apart from within?”

          “That’s merely one outsider’s opinion, now isn’t it…”


 Care for more?

 Chapter Thirty-Eight. Even deeper into the Is/Pal 
weeds, remedies are still whacked by bitter
 regional realities. Yet issues are largely defined,
toward an array of potential resolutions amid the
current Marina calm. But to what end?