Chapter Thirty-Three

 “Times change, tastes do, 
too. It’s not what you dread, 
but what you do…”

          “Surgery?”

          “Yep, my scars tell the story—ACL, MCL, tore a meniscus, cracked the cap in two places…”

          “Whoa, sucker reads like a road map, bud. Should be awarded the Purple Knee, or something…”

          “No doubt about it—for valor on the course and basketball courts.”

          “Sore knee? Son, that’s like feeling sorry for a fancy-shmancy ski injury. Wait’ll you get to be my way…”

          From what we could gather, the Lucas preview was of a new animated short in H-D 3-D, fresh from his digital factories in Marin and just up the street. Tentatively titled, ‘Chewser the Loner’, word was the film put a happy, humane face on a charming little hammerhead shark—a challenge indeed given they were presumed to eat their young, and anything else in their wide-eyed sights. This was a flick designed to blow Pixar and Dreamworks out of the water, techno imagery-wise.

          Up and down the ropeline, local cinemaniacs, and various pro placeholders, speculated that ‘Chewser’ was destined for full-length rollout at a theater near you. Presidio Theater ushers were handing out souvenir 3-D glasses in the lobby, reminiscent of King George’s central valley youth.

         Toward the end of that queue were these two aging jock types in baggy-striped black Puma shorts trading road war stories, and the arthritic, bottom-heavy elderly man rolling his walker slowly past them—leaving them to ponder their fate as they waited on line. No less mortally circumspect were Reese Paulen and myself.

          “Red light, Amy, red light!!!” A beset young multi-mother shouted at her terrible twos toddler, who was darting toward a bounding yellow balloon, tethered tenuously to a curbside parking meter post. She raced past us all in full panic mode, pushing a new load of baby blues, stroller as guided weaponry. “We always stop at red light. Thank you, precious… come, please—licorice twists for you…now!”

           “Sense of humor? And gather, gather what,” I asked Paulen heatedly, feeding off the woman’s fury, stifled though it was like an aborted sneeze. Unsettling all the more was the pistol popping of that balloon, the pink-rompered ankle biter who’d smacked it shrieking in fright—which altogether conspired to send me buckling at the knees. “OK, now you’ve got me stoked…” Really, this was supposed to be about him, not about me…

          Quickly breaking that little Chestnut flare-up, however, was a beef between Janis Joplin’s avenger and one of the Beanery’s meandering, over-caffeinated stiffs—a micro turf spat, bum’s brush, mutual psychotic breaks at the Marina’s margins, before a police squadrol screeched in here to cart off the grizzled aggressor, much to the Janis van owner’s and local slummers’ amusement and relief.

          Otherwise, ocean breezes had picked up some from the south-southwest, a bit more fog thus frothing in over the Presidio treeline. Swirling our way was the saucy redolence of a southern Italian wine ristorante across the street; further steering us toward the low-key tuckaway was the blocked sidewalk dead ahead. Over here, past Verchelli’s, Chestnut zoned more residential to the Divisadero corner, a sprawling Spanish-style apartment complex fronted by its row of Genied garage doors. Parked directly outside the nearest stall was this gunbarrel Hummer H2 with Nevada vanity plates, muddy from Sierra Tahoe. Its bumper pressed solidly against door number one, rear spare tire mount all but extending out into traffic—largely an issue of neighborhood scale, or the rude, callous disregard thereof.

           “Oh, nevermind. Not that germane,” Paulen said, moving away from an L.L. Bean-Edition Subaru chap swearing at the blinking red dot on that parking meter, jiggering with his coinage as the new high-tech gizmo pinged incessantly away. “We simply hear what we want to hear, my friend.”

           “Hear ya, doc,” I sidled closer again, with a scratch of my lower back. “But you could say the same thing about the your pigheaded Middle East camps.”

           “Another unfortunate choice of words, Herbert. Nevertheless, I can see that you object to how negotiations such as the Oslo/TABA/Dayton peace accords have proceeded.”

           “No, more like that we’re still talking about frickin’ Oslo/TABAs at all,” I spouted, feeling for the Subaru Outback guy, as I couldn’t negotiate those computerized meters if my DPT rap sheet depended on it. “Or any of the Mideast stuff, for that matter. Christ, what’s the goddamn hang-up there?”

           “Head in the sand, Herbert, no burying your head in the sand,” he pressed, checking for a sliver of an opening in bumper-to-bumper traffic both ways. “This still isn’t going away anytime soon—and sooner or later may very well affect so much of our day to days.”

           “How d’ya figure that?” I followed closely as we slipped between detailed Acura and Infiniti SUVs. Remember the operative words, dodo—maintain composure

           Crossing over the yellow line, we were greeted by a touch of Basilicata and Veneto. Abruzzo occupied the ground floor of a compact Georgian building, red brickfront and climbing ivy in a sea of off-white and beige, already packed for early dining Saturday. Lovey couples lounged in the black captain’s bay window casings of the bistro’s foreroom wine bar, gazing out over beauteous flower boxes, sipping varietal Fattoria Parattico and Mastroberardino from Campania, sharing Selvagrossa and Stotti Montonico from Puglia and Sardegna—poured with nose-up devotion by staff sommeliers.

          Daytime candles and shadows: Abruzzo fanciers picked delicately at gender-specific menus: were already savoring house-cured Ciccioli and Lonza; braised ricotta meatballs,Tonnarelli soffritto, entrees like Crespelle and ricotta-pecorino or Fiocchi d’amore. In anticipation of a dolce finale of Blu del Monviso and Baba alla Limoncella—all amid regina viarum paintings, landscapes along the Appian Way. A sotto voce feast in progress for consummate Gulf of Taranto epicureans at heart, lots of vino fino and actionable ambience: Bartoli-Roberta Gambarini music, and Saturday evening had yet to set in.

          But along this stretch, aroma-wise, Abruzzo was just the beginning. As though in a different time zone, the clean, well-lighted place for baked goods next door took us back from later afternoon to earlier morn. Babykakes was a comparatively new Marina bakery, to-die-for cutesy and ethnicity neutral, an indie upstart that seemed especially to attract the district’s young and healthful worker or stay-at-home mommies, and the sleepwalking partners they dragged along on off-days such as this.

          Tidy sidewall tables were still half filled with breakfast laggards munching prune scones, almond croissants, apricot Danishes cocoa brioche, sipping gentrified espresso. Meanwhile, we could soak in fluorescent display cases full of fresh berry tarts, polka-dot sprinkled buttercream cupcakes, saffron quiche and custard cups, black currant mousses and sticky caramel crullers—baked on site overnight in openly antiseptic backroom ovens.

          In Babykakes’ long, narrow side cases, however, the breadth of its cake specialties truly shone through: Hazelnut Mocha, Gianduja Crunch, Boysenberry Charlotte, Mango Cheesecake and Brandy-Citrus Sunset in fresh fruit glazes and dazzling frosted colors. Just the sugary, smiley-face ticket for casual-by-design neighborhood dinner parties, receptions, coming outs, goings on, showers, waleemas, affusions, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs—the whole grain non-sectarian, tasteful bill of fair play.

          “You’ll see, my friend, just bide your time,” Paulen said, glancing me up and down again. “Tell me, out of curiosity, when’s the last time you engaged in substantive discussion, anyway?”

          “About what?” I spotted a down-heeled former condo broker known along gourmet row for his serial dine and dash.

          “The social sciences, politics, religion—about anything…” doc’s dismissive tone betrayed as how Abruzzo’s Italian flavor had tugged further at his paterfamilial roots.

          We caught our breaths outside the leek green and terra cotta detailed building, fighting the urge to gorge when a spanking twentyish couple emerged through the bakery’s disable-enabled front door. The happily doting father, clad in black fleece, denim and Cal ballcap, guided a high-tech new tripod baby stroller into the sidewalk flow.

          Closely following, a mother superior blonde in azure modal-lycra pregravid form shuffled her pink-orange Crocs out of Babykakes, sorting about a large, clear tote bag of raisin-walnut bread, oatbran muffins, banana loaves and garlic ciabatta. Futzing with a long zucchini baguette, she glanced up from under a black and gold CU Buffaloes sun visor to spot her mate. That’s when she locked on us, appearing to make Paulen as someone to scowl at and frown upon.

          “You…professor…”

          “Why hello, Cindy…” doc reached out to her. “Fancy meeting…”

          “No, please don’t,” she pulled back. “Sorry…got to go!” With that, she seemed to recoil and catch up with the stroller. They blurred away down Chestnut, as she pointed back sharply, whispering her husband’s way, then spinning off like I…we weren’t even there.

          “Whoa, what was that little drama about?” I asked, relieved to shift focus some, although that beaming CU visor, the couple’s initial openness and easy smiling manner, triggered pesky thoughts on my part of what might have been down that…other path, contrariwise. Still, business was business. I reached into my vest pocket once again for reassurance—recalling a little trick I had first learned of way back when.

          “Who knows, she is just a former student,” Paulen shrugged though seeming rather more shaken than stirred. “CU’s a big campus, but Boulder’s still a small town…everybody runs into everybody there, for better or for worse.”

          Our contact glucose high was quickly doused by another breeze-blown whiff of sushi. Black and sea blue fronted with a ported ship’s cabin door, Koyoko served up a gill net full of familiar raw fish variations at pillow-cushioned wall tables and a stainless steel back bar, pink kimono-wrapped waitresses busily bone-ringing chopsticks and white cloth napkins.

          Still, Paulen paused, glancing back at the CU alum. But he quickly averted to window photos of Teri Don, Ton Katsu and Udon Yaki Soba; a posted menu of Hotate Gai nigiri, Maguro and Mirugai, Tobiko and thin-rolled Te or Hoso Maki—with saki and Mochi ice cream to sop the palate.

          Culinary culture clash: I in turn nudged us past the blue-bag bandbox launderesse next door toward Pirgos, a cramped Greek grill, Aegean grotto-style, with blue and yellow décor. Corfu watercolor seascapes and Pindus panoramas adorned the walls, Sporades weaves and Cyclades ceramic urns garnished counters and shelves. Snug main deck and mini-balcony tables were flower vase readied for saucers of dolmathes and baskets of bite-sized bookies, plates of Garides Saganaki, dishes of piping Spetzofai or Arnisia Paidakia, heaped platters of Pikilia Thalassinon and Lahanikon, with Spanakopita, souvlaki and baklava as sweeteners. All told, it prompted the metabolic question: How could so many of the Marina’s trendier foodies live within sniffing distance of Chestnut’s pan-cuisinal row, yet remain so slim and trim? Forget not the mantra: burn, baby, burn.

          “Grade dispute?”

          “Something like that. In any case, the town has a way of sticking with you, and to you, on a very personal and interpersonal level,” Paulen said, with a nervous chuckle. “Can’t seem to get away from CU. Even back out here in California.”

          Another fitting answer may have been gliding our way—a statistical cluster stream of young women dutifully filing into the adjoining storefront. Predominantly lithe and limber, devout as Vedanta Templers or cloistered sisters of the cloth, they ignored us entirely as they entered Hasta Yoga. Where Pirgo’s facade gleamed in oatmeal tiles, this spot—long vacant—bore drab tiling that appeared mold green and neglected.

          Yellowing in one of its dust-streaked shop windows was a large loud commercial ‘For Lease’ sign—rent too high, a sight too low. Papering over the other display glass were promo and scheduling fliers for Hasta’s studio, a pop-up spiritualized sublet keeping vandals and other rodents away from the property on a 30-day, month-to-month basis. Filing in through its brown, kick-battered door were this session’s yogamatons—totally dialed in to elevating their conscious states, stretch the tensil limits of their bodily elasticity for upwards of an hour or more. Color-matched, foam rolled mats slung like quivers over their shoulders, folded towels and water bottles in hand, these dedicated legions made their mission statement in a transcendent sort of way.

          The soft core among them wore seaweed coordinates and MBT wobbly shoes, with a full campaign of plastic wristbands, seeking out gurus to wring out their monkey minds. The gung holistic came forth in black vinyasa tights, brown chakra or santasha crops, living on organic couscous and buckwheat groats. Buff disciples pre-stretched the arms of their orange shivasana tunics, lavender repose tanks and canary motion singlettes.

          More chary subjects wrapped themselves in teal tadesana and mauve elation jackets against any apres-Bikram chill; bolder yoginis simply draped a shanti hoodie or she-bop vest over breaker bras, and cinched up their charcoal dharma shorts and brown boogie pants, pinned back pony tails and hair claws in the event of a sudden, deep breathing fall from grace.

          We could see little over water stained half-curtains, the fliers and makeshift signage, but Hafta’s schedule did spell out something of a timeless hybrid of mixed-level yoga styles, blocked out in crisply plotted spread-sheet classes. Tuesdays looked to be devoted to Naam and pre-natal; Yin, Ritual Flow and Iyengar dominated mid-week instruction; making Fridays the soul province of Raja Dhyana Meditation.

          That brought us to today, Saturday’s Ashtanga prayanamas, which were already taking shape on, from what I could see, was the store’s cupping and creaking old hardwood floor. Yogis still wet behind their Oms drilled pre-paid subjects through 26 Asana poses and postures—balancing stick, full locust, upward facing dog—until Paulen stood riveted like a construction fanboy through a downtown peephole, and I could take it no more.

          “Sticky, kinda like BabyKakes, huh,” I probed, seeking instead to ferret out that CU alumna’s alarm. I could just imagine what went on with them back there. Yep, now we were getting somewhere. “Nice, toasty buns…” As much as I wanted to turn from Hasta’s window, I could scarcely find the will or way to slip away. Those asanas, the flowing poses: I was thereupon delivered back unto Her upliftingly sunny bedroom, to that throbbing, heartstopping nooner that has but lasted priaprismally to this day. Religiously enlightened postures that morphed heatedly into inconceivable positions; if doc here only knew, could only hope to hypothesize, double-blind control factor for, or methodically deconstruct.

          “Shush, I’m meditating and centering,” doc noted yet another flier hyping Sunday classes in swing and samba dance, Mondays being reserved for negligent and pole dancing geared to homebody vegan strippers in training. “Relax, Herbert—only jesting…humor, remember?”

          “Yeah, you’re a regular Lenny Bruce alright,” I had pried myself from Hasta Yoga entirely, ambivalent over certain overstimulating asanas from an earlier time—wholesome, healthful discipline put to purely prurient use; transcendent, metaphysical means in the service of carnal ends?

          “So what’s not to like about Lenny Bruce,” Paulen regained his focus and footing, following in stride, past another nail and facial rejuvenation salon, only hotter yet on the shrieking new neons, glitter gels and toxic greens, with shelf upon shelf of paraffin sealers, color blockers, lacquer removers and brazen multicolor polishes. Masked Vietnamese attendants pampered their low-chaired regulars, gagged over the byproducts, scratched the irritations: More nails, more sushi, more’s the pity. “Not to mention Jackie Mason.”

          “Jackie Mason…”

          “The ol’ Borscht Belter…Google him, why don’t you…”

          Before I could search for any trace of a rejoinder, we were squarely in front of this by-appointment-only interior design shop, cognoscente to the neighborhood czars. Tiny in scale, but outsized in style and influence, Marianna Grotelli dispensed custom furnishings and considerable aesthetic gravitas. Her narrow show windows flaunted refurbished period pieces—a renaissance inlaid Italianate settee, a tufted French Provincial fauteuil.

          More specifically, Marianna catered to the sumptuous TICribs and mansions on upper Broadway—the sort of spreads I once squirreled into and drive-by shadowed—as well as here bordering America’s most inestimable urban park. Window dressings, cloth swatches, color wheels and carpet squares cluttered both showcase displays under her subtle gray awning. A cherrywood secretary, chrome mantle mirror, china tea services, cloisonné and Wedgwood, bindled tapestries and a gold-framed neo-Degas landscape filled any nook and corner between the studio’s cheerful lemony Dutch door and rear consultation consoles.

          “I’ll get right on it, soon as I scrounge up a laptop,” I finally muttered, tossing in another reductio ad absurdum, owing to impatience with the topical drift. “Any relation to Perry Mason?”

          “Hilarious, Herbert—but if Barack Obama can be a Kenya Muslim or  distantly related to George W. Bush, I suppose anything is possible…”

           “Your Mason’s not one of those gross-out comedians, is he,” I attempted to steer the conversation back on target—albeit against my friable judgment—but feeling the heat from the wall clock in yet another Chinese wash & fold.

           “Scarcely…bu Jackie Mason is hard-matzoballs, ultimate in-your-face Jewish,” Paulen said, somewhat righteously. “He’s a take-no-prisoners tumler, a genius at getting under peoples’ skin with the unvarnished truth. Think Georgie Jessel with hemhorroids.”

           “Who? Think I’ll hang with Perry Mason…”

           “Only with a smirk and a yarmulke.” Paulen sighed, visibly testy and torn. “Although I should think you’d have encountered such a reknowned stand-up star in your…readings.”

           “Yeah, well don’t read too much into that,” I fretted, recognizing that this really could have been going better, all in all things being unequal… “I mean in, like, US or People magazines.”

           Fabrics and textures, delicious enough, but Marianna Grotelli seemed no match for the latest Marina institution—some twenty years, three local grocer generations in the breeding—that newly shared the street level of this brickface and bay windowed apartment building. Marina Meatery’s distinctive black and russet awning stretched well around its corner storefront, the aromatic venting through its open-arms doorway drew cultivated carnivors from Cow Hollow on down.

          We paused long enough to sample some Andouille, pistachio liver pate and mint marinade from its friendly neighborhood son of a principal butcher. We peered in at his bright 49er blood red and gold décor, gleaming black-and-glass cases plump with prime, leanly marbled steaks, roasts and brisket, fat logs of salami and pimento loaf, coiled links of Italian sausage, bangers and wurst. A stuffed swordfish was trophy mounted over Meatery’s opposing poultry case, Westphalia hams giving way to whole fryers, turkeys and duck. The day’s sea-catch ranged from salmon and lobster to cod-white trays of crab cakes and clams.

          Ravenna folk guitar piped through the shop, further seasoning coolers of pastas and risotto, stacked produce baskets of pomme de terre, Beauregard yams, jumbo Bermuda onions and beefsteak tomatoes. Blocks for the carving, sauces for the tasting, numbers for the taking: Marina Meatery had everything but the sawdust floors. It basted me back east rather wistfully to Rosen’s corner Grocery and Meats way in Willow Grove: How greatly mom appreciated the Rosens for it, even though dad still rolls in his grave over the humiliating kindness and credit Harold showed our family in need.

          But even such regressive thinking couldn’t shake me off this corn-fed, free-range protein contact high. Not when I’d  inhaled gastronomy so varied and savorous here along Chestnut Street—even though I hadn’t actually eaten so well in ages. Nor when a little more patient probing might net me some medium rare Liverpool Lil’s…

          VrrroOOMMM…scrreEEECHHH…thrrruUMMPPP…   

          “Aagghhhh!!!!”

          Then again, that there could very well have done the trick…


Care for more?

 Chapter Thirty-Four. Traffic imbroglio, 
out-of-towners make their presence known. 
Conflicting views make for a murkier picture, 
forcing a point-counterpointed turn of the corner…