Chapter Thirty-Six


That VaporBonus installment contains a
detailed narrative of the SF Marina mere
 hours after the Loma Prieta Earthquake of  1989.
   Rewalk those rattled streets, or just rock on here…    


“Taking it to the Bank and all,
expect a crosser word, not only
shaken, but stirred.”

          “Pull his head up, son…”

          “No, just leave him, he’ll be all right when it passes.”

          “But he’ll swallow his goddamn tongue before that.”

          “No, he won’t. It’s just a minor seizure…Jimmy, back off!”

          “He’s all choking and drooling already!”

          The big brother remained so calm and collected, having led his school class of mentally challenged boys toward us on Divisadero Street, multi-races and degrees of composure—special education to go—some more special than others. They were on their way back from a field trip to the nearby Exploratorium, meandering hand-in-hand to another MUNI bus stop under the steady guidance of this cross between Denzel and Samuel L..

          He gathered his flock around one stricken younger teen, now curled fetally on the sidewalk before us, trembling and bucking as if party to an electrocution gone haywire.          The teen still lay shuddering on a stretch of Bay Street sidewalk, outside a plain beige, corner apartment building, with a row of chalk-white garage doors—colorful throw rugs and comforters airing out over fire escapes four floors above. The group had semi-circled around him, midway between an olive green mail bin and young Bronze Loquat tree, planted and tri-pole braced by Friends of the Urban Forest.

          “Petit mal…I’ve seen Hank through it a hundred times. Norman, stop now, dig?!”

          “Call 911,” asked the neighborly kibitzer, a gum-chawing, retired bosun’s mate in a Navy blue fleet cap with yellow carrier group insignias and lettering, well known for yakking away his idle hours up and down Chestnut Street, never letting go of a good gift of gab with whomever he could stop, back slap and collar.

          “Relax, man,” said the teacher/therapist, rubbing the heaving boy’s shoulders, as he kept his six other, gangling pupils in check. “He’ll be up and over it before dispatch can 10-4 the call…”

          “B-but he’s gonna gag…”

          “Sir, I know what I’m doing, dig? Hank here and I have achieved a working agreement, understand? Haven’t we, Hank…”

          “Understand my ass, son…understand don’t feed the monkey…”

          “Look, admiral, be stupid, or be rude…just don’t be stupid, and rude, OK?! We were on a field trip over at the ‘Living, Breathing Brain’, exhibit. Everything was copacetic, but Hank must have been triggered by sensory overload…”

          “Bet those roaring motorcycles didn’t help.” Reese Paulen craned to observe the soccer-pullover-ed teacher’s confident demeanor—in essence, obligatory black on lean, laudable black.

          “Naw, man, Hank is a motocikin’ fool—plays ‘Grand Theft’ on his Xbox all the time. These episodes, they just come and go, dig—part of the epileptic cycle.”

          “A real handful, hey,” Paulen asked, with an air of professional familiarity, then nodded to me as the old salt muttered off toward Chestnut Street. “You must be part paramedic,” he said clinically, watching the young lad begin to temper down, glancing my way. “CPR, all that.”

          “Or a paraminder, with the patience of a saint,” I added, feeling Hank’s trembles to the marrow, tongue in cheek, tongue down throat, fearful that my own triggers might get pulled again: Power of suggestion, tongue and a dissociative epileptic groove. Synapses flashed on mom and me…mother, my I…with some painful backyard blues. So I hastened to tune back in to the counselor’s steadying mien. “Just happens, right? Part of the cycle, comes and goes…”

          “Something like that,” said the counselor.

          “I mean, to stay so cool…more power to you, bro. Kinda makes me think of L.T.,” I took myself hostage back to Aquatic Park’s muni pier, still teetering from that aching, epiphanic stretch. But now, as we turned away, the teacher pulled his tittering, hand-clasped brood together for a final leg over to the bus stop.

          “He rather reminds me of DeCole Lerndon…” Paulen shook his head as we fully separated from the destabilizing encounter, due west out Bay Street.

          “You know of ‘Trap’ Lerndon,” I asked, hyperlinking in the prefrontal cortex, to a dimly archived landing page, the mere sight of that petit seizure making me all the more temblor wobbly.

          “Of course, ‘Honey Trap’, heard all about him, Boulder’s a small town, remember? Best thing since Glenn Miller, greatest Buffs’ middle-linebacker ever—grew up near Rocky Flats. Then went into total seizure right on the 40 yard line after that spearing helmet-to-helmet hit. Folsom Stadium went into total shocked silence,” doc replied, searching in my direction. “But who is L.T.?”

          “Uh, nobody—yeah, Trap…now you’re talkin’, so tragic that he had to hang his cleats up for good after that—went out a total hero, all right,” I evaded, seeking a short change of conversational venue. “Then again, how about CU football since, huh—that whole men behaving badly thing. Catch me up on some of that scandalous Boulder dish, why don’tcha…”

          “Would be delighted to,” he parried, “except that still wouldnt explain your preoccupation with the Jews.”

          “Yeesh,” I said, unable to re-steer the course so easily. “It’s like with the whole Mideast thing—kind of an open sore, OK? What do you do with an open sore? You pick at it.”

          “But that’s not your sore, now is it…”

          “Oh, I’m not so sure. I mean Jewish people and Israel are so interesting—like with all the drama and everything. Take the West Bank…” True, I had no dog in that fight personally, only detached retinas and legacy concern.

          “Judea and Samaria.”

          “There, see?” I shuddered that my devil’s advocacy was once again in the details.

          “By everything, I suppose that’s as in pushy, obstinate, quarrelsome, unreasonably arbitrary, am I right?”

          “No, I mean animated, lively—you know, like, feisty…”

          “Feisty, for defending what is rightfully theirs,” Paulen asked, with notable irritation. “What has been their promised homeland since Biblical times— indeed, long before the Masada siege in 73CE—where a thousand Jewish rebels perished in King Herod’s fortress rather than willingly lose Judea and Samaria to the Roman forces who’d already plundered the Second Temple? ‘Never surrender’ was their battle cry to the end. You may call it feisty. I call it blessed pride and devotion to that tortured legacy.”

sr dingbats

          Doc pointed up toward the baying front room window of an upcoming stucco Marina Spanish bungalow, the nearest of a mixed bag of Bay Street residences, mostly sharing subtle variations on an off-white theme. This home was a marginally more flamboyant, however—banana yellow with siena highlights, a recessed, mesquite San Miguel front portal, framed by coppices of florid bushes branching well out onto the ceramic-inlaid sidewalk. Out its open picture side windows thumped Mick Jagger’s demonic voice and Keith Richards’ electro-acoustic guitar licks from a remastered ‘Street Fighting Man’.

          “Hmph, people in attached houses shouldn’t play Stones.”

          “Especially Stones that ancient…or throw stones, for that matter…” C’mon, get a grip, I stroked my spleen. The clock is ticking. This isn’t about you or the Glimmer Twins or that spastic kid; this is about moving his needle, remember?”

          “What’s that supposed to mean,” Paulen took note of the quick opening and shutting of the dark-wood door’s black iron-hatched peephole, leaving a faint contrail of potent Merry Juanita. “Oh, we…I see where you’re going with this…”

          “No, hey—I was just thinking…like, in Hebron, the settlers, maybe. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…John 7:53-8:11, or something,” I stammered, as we ducked under the second of draping palms that bookended this inordinately rocking chichi bungalow. “That is, unless people have a legit cause.”

          “Cause? What cause,” he looked at me askance. “Listen, your West Bank Palestinians are scarcely without sin themselves, terrorists like Arafat and Abbas stirring up their suicidal minions—not unlike the tit-for-tat tribal atrocities of the 1930s.”

          “I just see those pictures in the news,” I sighed, casting about to the Marina’s harmonious pastel tones, with little corresponding consolation. “Rocks versus IDF rifles—it seems so…unbalanced.”

          “Un-balanced? Unbalanced are the kids heaving those stones in the first place…”

          “But they are just kids, right? Hopeless kids, and rock, paper, scissors, it’s not.”

          “So they’re kids—so are the citizen security forces…”

          What was shakin with the insouciant bungalow? For one, it was among the Marina’s earthquake coming through largely unscathed, having escaped the post-Loma Prieta singularly intact, yet long numbed and apprehensive, until its survivor guilt was finally shed and buried with the liquefied muck and goo. Others, with their structurally uniform inferiority, had not been so happy go lucky.

          By virtue of reinforced ground floor garage spaces and skeletal retrofits, most had been resurrected rather quickly through hefty Federal and insurance policies, all right, yet still bore deep psychological, seismic scars. Like them, I had not quite escaped the wide-spread destruction—with no such coverage to fall back on or even to ideate in kind.

          “OK, forget about a blame game,” I replied. There, getting a rise, taking his temperature under fire, making note. “What about an end game?”

          “Ask the Palestinians,” Paulen huffed, passing a pair of frugal Italian widows in humble cloth coats. Arm in arm they were, backs crooked like little question marks…Marina natives, an endangered species, to be sure. “When are they going to stop with the violence and bloodshed?”

          “But you can’t deny their frustration, right?” If reading our thermometer, we would have both been running a degree or two above normal about now. “I mean, ultra-nationalists torching their mosques and Korans—hell of a price tag.”

          “Hmph, that’s just part of their whole grievance and victimization narrative—like their slander that the Jewish state only came about because of Holocaust guilt.”

          “And they would say, tell that to the 48ers…”

sr dingbats

          On-shore breezes were kicking up, though not strongly enough to take the heat off, or to chill down phantom traces of the North Point/Diviz inferno—at least to my mind. I wanted to blurt out an offhand ‘what say we turn back?’, but couldn’t get a grip on that. B-bam! Then the mildest of aftershocks shook me loose, the concrete sidewalk jiggering out from under me like a wave-swept boogie board, sending me momentarily back to Loma Prietaland…in something of a self-induced seismic…seizure.

          “And just what do you know about the 48ers, Herbert?”

          “Well, that they’re not a pro football team, that much I know,” I replied. All right, hold on, sack up, buck up—hit the hot pedal here, and now push him in maddening counterpoint. “No, I think I read somewhere that they’re the Arabs who, amid Israel’s birth, were displaced from much of historic Palestine…their indigenous land.”

          “TransJordan, such as it was,” doc said dismissively.

          “Still, I think I’ve read how underground Jewish militiamen hounded Arabs out of their shops and houses with loudspeakered truck threats—even raping and pillaging by Zionist gangs…”

          “There you go again, trying to turn Zionism into a pejorative,“ doc said, with an exasperated wave of his hand. “Look, Arabs largely left their so-called property of their own free will. And many have been peaceably absorbed into the state of Israel. As if Jews hadn’t been scattered then, as well.”

          “Though the displaced Palestinians left with their keys and deeds in hand, right? Fully expecting to come back to their homes before long,” I was unable to avoid that gemstone of his. Didnt I recall a green one? But this ring wasn’t jade green at all. In this sunlight, it was deep sapphire black or blue. “Instead, many became permanently uprooted, or were pushed by one-time refugees into those camps, violating Geneva conventions on forced transfers, no less.”

          “Sorry, there never have been any such right-of-return promises made, they were double crossed by their Arab neighbors,” Paulen said, as if sensing my growing/creeping instability. “Besides, your so-called West Bank was fully in Arab hands until 1967, yet no Palestinian state ever came of it back then.”

          “Yeah, but the trouble is, its prospects of reclaiming a national home keep getting smaller all the time.” Yeah, let’s really get down to cases, steadying as she goes. “I mean, by ’67, Israel had seized control of the West Bank altogether, and has occupied it ever since—with no retreat in sight.”

          “Aha, the spoils of a war Israelis didn’t actually provoke in the first place—with no hope of border or bodily security ever since.”

          All that Loma Prieta earthquake devastation was so near to where we strolled, but oh, so long ago. Of course, the Marina wasn’t Katrina. This wasn’t the French Quarter, no properties as yet under water, and it assuredly wasn’t the Lower Ninth Ward.  Underwriters had quickly paid out homeowner claims, FEMA had fast-track allocated disaster aid—no trailers attached.

          Curious to be sure was how some District stretches had sustained little or no damage way back in ’89. How in some cases single addresses beyond that ‘banana boat’ had arbitrarily survived the earthquake so blithely unscathed. Otherwise, certain blocks had since been I-beam retrofitted, foundations rebricked, steel pilings driven deep into geologically more sustainable ground, undergirding this wide-scale Mediterranean revival.

          “Still and all, Mideast maps show how dramatically the Palestinian territory has shrunk since 1967, let alone 1947.”

           “Yet Arabs continue to make up upwards of 80% of the misnamed West Bank population to this day.”

          “Really, have you checked out those detailed West Bank maps in the newspapers? They look like bad acne or a pinball maze full of bumpers, trap doors and firewalls,” I said. Several nicely dressed women approached in passing, lifetime devotees of the Pat Steger society crowd once removed.

          “Those road blocks and checkpoints you see serve an entirely legitimate purpose, Herbert. They’re essential for security and surveillance, public order and peacekeeping overall.”

          “To whose benefit? The Palestinians?”

          “Why, for the benefit of Arabs and Israelis alike, of course…”

          “Good luck with that…Palestinians pay taxes to Israel, and get nothing for their troubles,” I threw up my own arms for schematic effect. “C’mon, that patchwork labyrinth is more like an obstacle course. From what I gather, there are almost 700 of those endless roadblocks—and that they jockey around—meaning no free movement of Palestinians and their goods most the time”

          “The checkpoints are positioned according to flare-ups of violence and Hamas-sparked terrorism. The PA provides security there, too, I’ll have you know.”

          “Yeah, but in the process, IDF security breaks Palestinian territories into, like, ten half-assed connected enclaves, right?” That’s it, keep pushing those buttons, looking out for shocks and sparks. “How can Palestinians maintain an economy with all those travel restrictions?”

          “Please, they are issued I.D. cards and all sorts of special permits. If they follow the traffic rules and behave themselves, they’re largely good to go. Besides, Israel helps the PA with public health, education and sanitation demands—only to get violence in return.”

          “Until they’re pulled over in a gauntlet of mobile shakedowns, getting detained by the IPS or deported by Shin Bet—with their junkheaps taken away, isn’t that so?”

          “Only if they are deemed suspects—only when they’re on a watchlist or packing contraband,” doc said heatedly. “After all, these are people sworn to destroying the Israeli state, drive it into the sea.”

          “So what kind of existential threats are posed by Palestinians’ olive groves and Roman trees? I hear about Israeli troops burning them up and plowing them down…ripping out their measly hyssop plants and plundering other natural resources while bulldozing houses. Almost sounds like Old Testament cruely to me. So much for a decent GDP—no wonder kids have to dig out a living through settlers’ trash.”

          “Utter rubbish, Herbert—Arab media agitprop at its worst—sounds as though you’ll buy any inflammatory fabrications they’re serving up these days. Must be your latent predilection again…”

sr dingbats

          Clearly, the Stoney flamboyance of that banana yellow abode muted to a low-key mud tan two-flat next door with a legal in-law—all told, non-descript by contrast and design. Which is what made the very next digs so comparatively shocking: a faint pink four-floor with those creamy white scroll crests to match its window frames, flaky teal trim around resprung garage doors.

          Then fade back to beige, six flats worth, nothing notable save a richly stained wood doorway—broker-leveraged income property at its absolutely blandest, most buttoned-down sense. So much for post-quake Marina District dramaturgy.

          “Don’t psycho label me like that, alright,” I tried to thread a needle with a close eye on the yarn. “And what about those West Bank settlements? All the restricted super roadways leading up to them?”

          “Its an evermore dangerous neighborhood. Try living next to Fatah gangs, Hamas terrorists and Al Aksa suicide bombers, before you start throwing your stones.”

          “Who says I don’t—the San Francisco variety? Point is, I know what I read, and when it has to do with the settlement movement, which began in earnest under Begin, what I read was pretty hard to stomach.”

          “Religious fringe activity, by and large,” Paulen shook his head. “However, I can say with some confidence that 67% of Israeli settlers live on barely 4% of pre-1967 land, and most settlement activity occurs on relatively unproductive parcels, mainly in Area C at that.”

          “Hey, I’ve seen the pictures,” I spouted, though wary of going a bitch too far. “All those Miami-style condo blocs cropping up on West Bank hilltops. They ring and hover over supposedly Palestinian cities like Nablus and Hebron, construction cranes everywhere…fueled by interest-free government loans, no less.”

          “That growth is purely the product of immigrant influx, especially form Russia, and increasing birthrates, with official Israeli policy responding accordingly. You see, Israel still does welcome a minimum of 1/8th Jews from all over the world under its Law of Return.”

          “Law versus Right, while settlements grow by the day. But Palestinians and others say a lot of this stuff is illegal—like, especially the hodgepodge settlements and squatter outposts springing up. It’s not just for all the pollution and traffic congestion they bring, but that the PA has little or no say in this steamrolling growth, getting sliced and diced further into deprivation.”

          “I’ll have you know there are some very handsome houses being built, as well,” Paulen said, stepping aside a woman with a severe late-term baby bump who drifted toward us, driven to T-Mobile transaction distraction while her husband pushed their pram. “What’s more, the so-called settlements provide a good deal of work and living wages for many Palestinians.”

          “All I know is there’ve been over 300,000 Jewish settlers so far, 120 settlements, 40% of the West Bank and counting—with government-approved plans for at least 500 more homes for Israeli Jews in places like Maskiot—violating international law in the process.”

          “And may I remind you that Israel’s Supreme Court has upheld this expansion…”

          “Or is it just a matter of rubber stamping the land grabs,” I stoked, though feeling I was reaching a conversational speed bump. “But it’s not just the construction, it’s the tactics involved. Faking deeds and leases, overrunning Palestinian homes, firebombing and forcing evictions at gunpoint. The IDF mapping their villages in the dead of night, making mock arrests. Rampaging Orthodox settlement kids from Brooklyn are one thing; tear gas and blitz raids by helmeted Israeli troopers something else altogether…”

          “Look, in many cases, those authorities are pursuing Islamic Jihad militants, or common Arab thugs hiding in villages such as Jabaa and Dura al-Qar.”

          “When the IDF isn’t hovering and riding herd over Nablus and Hebron,” I fixed on a thicker collar of fog frothing in over the Presidio trees ahead. “Let alone that bulldozing massacre at Jenin.”

          “The place was infested with terrorists. Pelting Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, for godsakes. What on earth was…”

          “How about not eating up land Palestinians claim for their future state? How about not sealing that potential state off into disconnected cantons, walling them off like the Warsaw Ghetto?!”

          “There, we…I knew it—don’t try playing the moral equivalence card, Herbert, don’t you dare attempt to equate that so-called ‘occupation’ with the Holocaust! They’re not the same, not even close,” Paulen wagged his finger at me. “See, with people like you, Israeli Jews and their ‘rogue Zionist regime’ can do nothing right!!!”

          “Wrong—that’s wronger than you know…”

          “Oh?  How so?”

          “If you only knew…”

Care for more?

       Chapter Thirty-Seven. Problems issued,
staggering toward solutions. But not without
weathering shock after aftershock…