Chapter Thirty-Two

 “Too much mental can 
harm the physical. But too much 
physical can make you mental even more.”

          “Don’t you dare touch me like that!”

          “Maam, was only trying to help…”

          “I’ll thank you to get out of my way before I call the police!”

          “Whoa, no problemono argument here. Just thought your…bag…”

          The Trusty Jeans crowd sucked down mojitos and Buck’s Fizz Mimosas, courtesy of Mamachica’s—a refried brown cantina immediately next door to the Doobious Brothers’ rocky sidewalk staging. In a past life, this toned down neuvo-Mejicano restaurant was colorful, folk-artsy Pan y Vino’s, where Cheech and Nash Bridges used to stand tall, hold court on their off days—back when that pair of Canary palm trees out front weren’t all that much taller than Don Johnson himself.

          By today, however, Mamachica’s full-frond palms were rising faster than a Rio Grande border wall. Earlybird diners tuned into moody thematic mariachi music at already candlelit interior burl tables, shmoozing and swooning over elote, mayocoba, jicama y naranja—ceramic platters of queso fundido and camaron al pastor washed down with Negra Modelo, reposado and vintage burbujas—giving the Doobios ‘It Keeps You Running’ cover outside nary a moment’s hearing nor afterthought. Over on this side of Chestnut Street, however, that particular Doobios number did give me some pause. And apparently the reverberating rock shock music didn’t agree with this cronish passerby at all.

          “Bag?! Never you mind…”

          “Sorry, lady, jeesh…”

          “I’ll have my lawyer bring city hall down around your ears, boy.”

          “My mistake, alright? Like, no good deed…”

          “Good deed? You want a good deed?! Then how bout a dollar or two so a body can get sumpin’ to eat?”

          “I’m…soooper heartfelt sorry…no billfold on me now… ”

          “Alright for you, fish hooks, these things always have a way of pilin back around.”

          The last of the Doobious set we could hear was the haunting ‘Another Park, Another Sunday’ to into ‘Minute By Minute, I keep holdin’ on’—which only had me feeling a moment of relief that we were moving on at all. Still, the sidewalk had grown more congested over here, too. So Reese Paulen and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the little drama triggered when these Marina worlds collided. Crunched between a gym sign-up table and the low hanging branch of a spindly magnolia tree, this elderly woman found herself approached by an ostensibly well-meaning younger, fitter fellow in Hurley, head to slides, who must have felt seratonin compelled to reach out and aid someone.

          Slumped, sulking on a small crafted bench wrapped around that magnolia tree, she had several totes clustered about her left, brace-bound leg, and leaned against another, Whole Foods shopping sack. Puffy, Rosacea face reddening, the homeless retiree shivered under layers of soiled white sweaters and skirted pantswith nothing to count on but a fast, fiery tongue. So she patently balked at his impulsive approach, continuing to shield her wizened, mascara smeared face with a FedEx mailer—grounded in gloom in the land of the sun—before turning our way with disdain.

         How bout you,” she asked brusquely.

          Sorry about that… I was just thankful this wasnt what became of the Dame, much less that nutcase up at the house.

          You then, honeybee?”

          Can’t say as I… Paulen looked away in uneasy silence, as if caught up in a case of unmistaken identity.

          “Then move it, honeybee! And say bonjourno to yur mum…”

          “Sad to say, looks like textbook downward mobility,” doc winced as she sneered at him, sinking further into her doubled up Nordstrom’s and Saks bags—designer shopping sacks stuffed with daily detritus—pounding the three-quarter heels of her scuffed brown pumps.

          “I’ve seen that woman kill whole days in a Starbucks easy chair,” I watched as she tugged at her coronation blue dress coat, looked to be dating back to I Magnin, straightening it, then repinning back her silver-blue hair. “Or by herself at the library, reading House Beautiful and Town & Country magazines until she’d just nod out until closing time. I think she lives out of those shopping bags, and public bathrooms—as if kicked out of her place, or something…” Roughly a routine with which I was not entirely unfamiliar.

          “Sadder yet, I can recall watching her playing canasta and mah-jongg with my mother on rainy winter afternoons,” Paulen said pensively. “They joined Friends of the Library together, and used to hit the White House and City of Paris sales downtown. I doubt she even recognizes me, although honeybee was her nickname for me back then.”

          “Then why didn’t you mention that to her?”

         “No point, she called everybody that in those days. Alas, as I recall, her husband was a broker of some sort, died suddenly and left her with nothing but taxes and losses. I can’t imagine she would remember me, and wouldn’t begin to know what to say…” He seemed to remember those cushy, clubbier days himself.

          “As in holding the bags, huh?”

          “Mother once said Luisa Delicardo had hit awfully hard times, but was too good and bitter to take help where she could get it. Definitely needed to put in some couch time. Like they say, no matron is an island…”

          The shopworn doyenne apparently had also fallen victim to the values collision of a genteel old-time San Francisco, aspiring politeness and propriety from a long-dissipating erapart of the forlorn Carol Channing chorus bemoaning the stage legend’s first show cancellation in some 70 yearsnow here she be, getting boat raced by mindless, casually monied come-latelys with so little regard for decent manners and appearances—to wit, vulgarly underdressed gym rats such as these. She’d slip into the coffee haunts, sipping house, striking up shotgun conversations as though still holding court at an Emporium tea.

          “Islands…right, speaking of islands,” I hastened to flip the subject, knowing a wee bit of her struggle and pain, hastening to end this all. “What about the bandustans…honeybee?”

          “How’s that?” Paulen shot back, no joke—glaringly Saturnervated in retrospect.

          “You know, the Palestinian claims…” I dialed down a notch. While, in that island vein, I welcomed a distant whiff of Polynesian pu pu platters.

          “Oh, that’s your angle, hey,” doc pounced. “That’s your real axe to grind here!”

          “Aw, come on, nooo.” I’d misread, all right, but hung close anyhow. “No axe, no angle…I just thought…”

          “So you’re actually not on the right side of the peace equation, are you,” Paulen challenged. He did a double-take on me, resizing whom he was talking to. “Don’t you worry, Heebert, I get it…now I know where you’re coming from.”

          “Wrong, wrong,” I said, mind racing, owning up to a doozy of an error when I heard one, even from me. I hankered for a dose of dissociative identity disorder or something, brainstorming a way out of this mise altogether. On the other hand, aha—his telltale flash of anger, finally hitting a little paydirt, though I was feeling a mite grimier for the effort. “As a matter of fact, I’m…”

          “What else am I to make of it,” he asked, as if through a waffled confessional wall, lowering his voice and looking away, almost as though talking to himself. “You’re implying Israel is solely to blame for the West Bank morass, aren’t you—that only the Jews stand in the way of putative peace and justice in Palestine…

          Flush with endorphins and adrenalin, the gym rats were a perspiration sensation in this breezier afternoon sun—a handful of hardbody gents and toned-up young queen bee or two. They were flexing and toweling off outside Ripped City Fitness, all in skin grafted, sweat soaked anti-static workout tops and odor resistant jerseys—buffed buddies and distaff race walkers knocking down electrolyte hydration, tourine/guarana energy drinks like free running water after some bodywork well done. It was the self-satisfied isometrician in orange ceramin-embedded sleeveless and purple microfiber shorts who capped his berry fusion Vitamin Glaceau, and offered to aid the designer shopping bag lady, who all but honored his feel-good gallantry with a single-digit, street-wise gesture of her own.

          No sweat, sister, his startled look seemed to suggest, as he reopened his vita juice in the face of such failing ingratitude. Then again, who wouldn’t work up a sweaty thirst in Ripped City? Nosing through the fitness center’s sliding glass doors, we could spot an upfront smoothie bar and clearance sale clothing racks of Swoosh, Puma track suits, B.U.M. Equipment and Ripped Stitches, mostly in true black and blue. Off to the side was a fenced in bullpen of knee dippers, quad extenders, toning ringers, well sitters and power med-ball flexors in full game-face determination to roll away the gelatal visceral fat. Beyond that stretched a veritable re-assembly line of more calibrated aerobic exertion. Ripped’s cavernous former supermarket space was a spectrum-lit, oxygen-infused physique factory, kinetic rows of churning treadmills, pilates machines, stationary spinners and ellipticals—self-absorbed trainer drones pulling, peddling, pounding and high-stepping their way to carbo neutrality and dehydrated exhaustion.

          Deeper inside, behind the LED-reading, CNN-monitoring automatons, Ripped City’s harder core pumpers and crunchers were pushing the iron, workin’ it to maximum firm and burn: cardio sculpt, plyometrics, extreme ride, suspension training—even bench pressing free weights, just like Gold’s HGHonchos downtown, no jerks allowed. Would-be warrior kings popped their gym candy before tackling G-force uprights, X-treme resistance bands, graduated mat squats and lunges, sets and reps. Beaucoup bulging biceps and triceps, squared-off pec perfection: pop those six-packs and jiggle the tattoos discreetly muralled like Marvel Comics up and down chiseled forearms and squatted calves in front of all those mirrored walls—sub rosa body artistes, if their fund managers and department heads only knew.

          Nearby, wonder women psyched up with Propel Calcium water and PowerBars for kickboxing classes, Muay Thai and cardio Tai. Tough as Gorilla Tape, they were bulked up like Serena and Mauresmo, forsaking their estrogen, milking any female testosterone—strengthening their self-defenses while mainlining g-shots to boost their g-spots. Further back yet, romantics among them all paired off for couples boxing, pounding the speed and heavy bags, then punching out their frustrations for a few tough-loving rounds.

          “Used to be a health food store,” I sighed in retreat, working up a sweat just trying to wrap my head around the whole rippin’ vigor and rigor of the place—muscle in perpetual motion, to a Red Hot techno beat. “Think it was called Whole Oats…a no go from the get-go…”

          “Wild Oats,” doc regrouped, point made, backing up against a row of chained together plastic boxes dispensing copies of real estate rags, learning exchange catalogs and throwaway coupon shoppers to take full measure of Ripped City’s physical plant. “They’re big in Boulder, at least with the grain-and-granola gang there.”

          “Yeah, I kinda remember that crowd,” I rather wistfully recalled bin nipping in the Green Mountain Granary, staring up, ever awestruck by the Flatirons on my way out the co-op’s swinging screen doors, jacket pocketing a baggie of cashew trail mix—a little something for Seamus—and a skosh more for Moon. How did all that innocence melt away?

           Sharing Trusty’s and Mamachica’s Mediterranean Revival storefront crown across Chestnut, Marina Super was the district’s last-stand independent food mart. Its bright white-green façade incorporated a brilliant produce explosion: bountiful baskets of fresh citrus, honeydews, kiwi and plantains; a colorful abundance of ripe mangos, tangelos, Fuji apples, pineapple and papaya. Green aproned Mexican stockboys pyramided Haas avocados, Roma and caprese tomatoes, acorn squash and bunched asparagus—all bordered by canisters of bouqueted flowers. Set aside the commingling of perspiration and flavored Gatorade, a powerful fragrance of the Super’s sidewalk harvest force-fed bodily recovery clear over here.

          On the arguably more toxic side, cranky, cynical old gas passers and the clueless younger chuckleheads who killed time beside them hunched along a string of tiny tables outside the Beanery, grumbling under its rind orange awning, coffee cupping hands in the cold shade of its dark roast brown storefront. Sporting either sunken chests in need of some inflatable pectoral implants or flabby gynecomastian chi-chi’s aching for laser boob reduction, the Beanery boys weren’t gaining much mood elevation from their house blend. Instead they seemed exercised over all the fitness freaks here on Chestnut’s sunny side—opting as they were to spike their energy levels on the chemically quick and cheap—ready to strike out, but afraid of just plain striking out. Couldn’t speak for the professor, but male breast-wise, I copped to falling somewhere in between.

          “Let that not detour us, however, from the road you have already turned down,” Paulen reiterated, as we shuffled away from Ripped City’s arching grey-on-gray Deco facade. “With regard to the so-called West Bank, that is.”

          “OK, OK, then,” I sputtered, back on track—time was short, had to start making some more fungible inroads hereside stepped a pile of surplus weight batches and bars, 10 to 60 lbs., black forged dumbbell debris that appeared to have given way to Nautilus systems, ergonomic bench stands and color schemed, rubberized weight stacks. “Why can’t they just resolve that mess? It’s been draggin’ on for half a goddamn century—hell, more than two Saturns’ worth—over such a little minefield of godforsaken land. It’s enough to drive a person bananas…”

          “Two Saturns, seriously? Please…”

          “You catch my drift. They all know what has to happen, so hammer it out and move on, already,” I snapped, kicking aside a picked-clean purple Ripped City swag bag, personal grudges momentarily trumping occasional piecework. “The rest of the world is up to here with this…”

          “The rest of the world doesn’t have to live there…”

          “But the Palestinians do have to live there, too, right? Sometimes that mess can have broader ramifications for other people, you know.”

          “Yes? And what might those be?”

          “Oh, nevermind,” I groused, reaching to pet a furry soft Bernese mix on leather ‘Gentle Leader’ snout harness, if only to ward off some refluxed collateral damage. “It’s not that important.”

          Coffee Beanery’s weak-side gapes and japes scarcely penetrated the UnderArmour and microfiber mesh of the Myoplexing powerlifters, much less the graphic racing tights of some bike riders pulling up to Ripped City on their stripped-down Mercier fixies, braking with the steel cleats of their toe clip cycling shoes. Cooling down right after them, a bevy of runners tugged at their sleek woven compression shorts and silver ion tights, adjusted the wired cups and T-back straps of their sports bras, wiped the sweat beads off their Oakley and Tom Ford shades.

          No sooner had team ponytail chilled and recharged than their restless leg syndrome jimmied them back on a jog path toward the Presidio. I felt a testosterone deficiency just watching them bolt, munching at a cloud of their carbonite dust. Missus Honeybee just kept flexing and lashing her tongue.

          “In any case, Israel’s already given the Palestinians Gaza back, remember,” Paulen countered, avoiding the black and brown mountain mutt as if it were a few nasty snaps away from a full-on muzzle. “And as they say, there’s always Jordan.”

          “Jordan? What’s Jordan got to do…”

          “Juusst joking, Herbert,” doc nodded, squeezing my arm. “It’s an old running Middle East site gag about Abdullahs Hashemite Kingdom being the Palestinians true home. Honestly, sometimes you have to maintain a little sense of humor about these things…”

          “Me? Humor…” This, from a guy who seemed to have an approach-avoidance thing going with finger-licking dogs.

          Parked, frozen in time outside a next-door Oculary store, was a battered Dodge panel van with ‘Who Killed Janis?’ signboards fastened all over it, ‘Pearl’ blasting from a loopy eight-track tape deck under its Nader-Moore decaled dash. Both side doors stood wide open, the occupant lotus on a mattress inside, smiled knowingly, holding arrowed signage that claimed it was a jealous Slick Gracie who laced the ‘Texas train wreck’s’ Southern Comfort.

          An otherwise plainly normal looking anarchist in a Cal-Berkeley sweatshirt and hornrim frames, his mental needle had reputedly been stuck in this groove since the SLA days, crusading in revolving Bay Area neighborhoods. The paranoid sort of malcontent  would call talk shows from pay phones, hanging on hold until his quarters ran out—whatever it took to sneak his theory across the airwaves under various aliases and trojan topics—equidistant echoes of Marina Green.

          I’d tired of his obsession ages ago, rather focusing on throwback window displays of Mosley Tribes and Tagheuer sunglasses, more traditional spectacles by Paul Smith and Oliver Peoples: All the better to see the multi-screen features at this recently renovated movie theater next to the Oculary. The Presidio was a storied Marina art house anchoring this Art Deco gem—its sweeping deltoid marquee now boasting a quartet of first-run flicks, neon radiating between the salmon and green vertical column details of its cinematic chino tan facing.

          Whispers up and down its curiously long matinee wait line, paid spot holders included, centered on a hush-hush preview of LucasFilm’s latest epic—straight from his digital campus a few short blocks away—the rumor having TXTed like viral wildfire all about town. Not much of a movie buff, I led Paulen through an overpowering eau de buttercorn, pointing us toward an adjacent breakfast-lunch spot, bookending the theater’s coral hued foyer and sunburst terrazzo. The dineresque spot dated back nearly as far as any Janis Joplin’s avenger, who today apparently had no conspiracy issues when it came to feeding his newfangled parking meter.

          Verchelli’s was a cozy, cheerful Marina institution by now, another slow-food kind of hangout: Eggs Benedictine or Blackstone, pepper bacon and corned beef hashbrown plates served at their leatherette stooled horseshoe counter. The brunch bunch having joined this theater line or simply waddled off, white-capped busboys busily folded sidewalk chairs and tables under a green, pigeon-pocked awning.

          I glanced past them, further into the diner’s circular Moderne front window, framed in bright white stucco, to two side rows of snug little cubbyhole boothslocking on an intimate table #1, furthest back, in the shadow of Verchelli’s open-face kitchen. That was where She and I had spent a dreamy, creamy Sunday morning once, albeit after the fact of our souring rencontre.

          “Recall this place opened just about when I was preparing to leave for Colorado,” doc said, breaking an impasse, noticeably less starstruck by the LucasBuzz.

          “Can’t help but have some memories of it from around then myself…” I was still trying to grasp the proportion and context of his Jordan punch line…past, musty lessons learned, bridges burned—dusty neurons reconnected—I could barely silence my sensory cortex any longer.

          “So I gather, Herbert, so I gather…”

          Had no clue how to digest nor even begin to drop set that…

Care for more?

Chapter Thirty-Three. Age-ranged distemper.
discordant accords: baker sweets lead to a
bitter encounter with past campus matters, which
turns out to be no laughing matter. Nor is the
sudden screeching of tires…