“Try wishing things away,
and they will dog you by the day.”
“Stop it, Buddy!”
“Hey, get hold of that bastard of yours, will you?!”
“Prince, no! Pull him the hell away…”
“I told you, Adam—not to the chair!!”
In the flash of a Gold Card, this scraggly dog had torn loose from its leash, an abraded leather strap still tethered around the trunk of a shady sidewalk acacia tree. The wolfish husky mix darted straight for a full-scale, groomed and pawdicured schnauzer that had been chained to the wooden chair leg of a spindly round corner table. No lapdog, the black purebred lunged back at that mongrel husky, dragging the chair and its pint-sized woman occupant along for the bronca—right here before us, stopping us cold. This caused the munching young, wet-combed Berkeley gal to brace her tanned soccer calf against the table’s center base stand, inadvertently overturning her table for two.
The resultant tipping of an iced pitcher of Agua Fresca over her USC sweat-shirted companion drenched them both, along with a couple one table down, who were until then huddled lovingly over Mesquite Chicken Nachos and strawberry Margaritas. Baring teeth, fiercely agrowl, the dogs continued tearing into one another, a fur ball of mismatched tumbling fury, as the woman jumped up to dress down her afternoon playdate.
“Hmph, dogs will be dogs, now won’t they,” Reese Paulen said, shaking his head, stopping in his tracks advisedly, so as not to stir the volatile mix any further. “But at least they’re not your Press Canaries…”
“Presa Canarios,” I replied, as I backed off curbward to avoid altogether the canine scrap. “Anyway, that what’s you get with big dogs in the city.”
“But at least it’s not kids screaming bloody murder,” he disdained, not without a trace of rancor—rather coolly fixing on the scrambling gal’s golden bears.
“Uh, yeah,” I tuned in like an onboard scanner. “Who could possibly want that?”
“But this is nothing. You should see all the wild mountain mutts on the Pearl Street Mall.”
“Yeah, well that’s funky Boulder. Anyway, who wants to be picking up dogshit all day long?”
Just as rattled by the canine clash were a half-dozen other tables on this cramped front Mejicano-style patio, chatting and chowing down on ample stoneware bowls of Pozole soup, pewter platters of Pascado al Mesquite, cooled to the palate with 100% Agave tequila. Jalisco’s was a muy atmospheric taqueria bathed in coral terra cotta and guaca green, with black Spanish wrought iron chandeliers descending from high skylight ceilings to meet soaring potted Monterrey palm trees. Recessed in the deeper corner of the restaurant’s patio was an adobe gas hearth with folk art tile trim, matching in style the seraphic murals spread across interior walls, punctuated by mounted Brahma bull heads and Aztec sunburst light sconces.
Jalisco’s struck the primo escenario for a dine-and-dash comida of Carnitas, Camarones al Alillo, Maya Burritos—flautas or Chipotle Quesadillas on the side. But no amount of Tecate or sangria, no Los Lobos nor Pikadientes ambient music score, was about to douse the fire of indigestion ignited by this ferocious brawl, however frantically the corner couple and a game-legged Chestnut regular, scrambling out from the Harbor Lounge, struggled to pull the dogs apart. All I could conjure up were images of that infinitely more vicious carnage between Eric’s loyal Chessie, ‘Zeff’, and the free-range pitbull family—not all that far from here, over at Gashouse Cove.
“And yet, I suppose it could be worse,” doc shifted, as we stepped briskly away from the fray, dropping the matter just as fast. “This might be some café in Tel Aviv, and rather than a dogfight, it could have been one of those bhurka babes packing a suicide sash…”
“Wow, why do you have it so in for the rugheads?” Damn, that again—might as well put a jolt into things, see if I might ride him better that way. Hard to tell whether he was of a compensatory calling-out, common avenue in. No matter how conflicted it left me. Recognitive dissonance about to set my cerebrospinal fluid aboil by now, cold jitters cascading about my dermatomes, cervical to sacral peripheral regions: no damn lie. “Really, where’s your clinical objectivity, doc?”
Before we could fully vacate that vicious circle, Paulen dodged an ankle-high pair of Bichon Frises scooting toward us on a dual tethered leash. The lanky dude walking them wore a Warriors jersey and a power forward demeanor, strictly swaggerville. Still, his little snowball littermates drew shucks and strokes of passing affection every tiny ramble-scramble step along the way.
So continued the bipolar nature of Chestnut Street: Good dog, bad dog; cool normality met hot-tempered deviations from the mean—chick dogs, chick’s dogs; little gals with monster pooches, big dudes with pint-sized pussy dogs. The warrior’s gal friend quickly posted up to him, tall Matcha Green Tea Freddos in either hand.
“Look, I think you mean ragheads, Herbert. And I don’t happen to have it in for anyone,” Paulen regained his stride. “That’s like my asking why do you have it in for Irish bead swingers.”
“But I don’t have it in for Irish Catholics…I am…”
“Then why do you have it in for the Prods?”
“And I don’t have anything against Scotch-Irish Protestants either, per se,” I said guardedly. Why was he jobbing me on this, anyway? “Only the troublemakers…”
“So that’s whom I’ve, quote-unquote, got it in for,” he replied, “Palestinian troublemakers, particularly those making trouble in and against Israel.”
For a brief, shining moment, all eyes were on the L.A.-grade, streaky chignoned blonde flame doing her star turn out front of Eyes Palace Optix, flashing a vanity mirror in the sunlight, leaning over the hood of a vintage cobalt 280SE Benz drop-top, shaping her take on a faceful of leopard Dior shades, as though waiting for validation from the passing crowd. She looked to be living real large, with her various procedures and injectables, the liquid fish lips, kind of like Angelina and the Ritchie set nowadays.
No easy call, as there were plenty more styles where those big Audrey Hepburn orbs came from, in a sleek wraparound reflective eyewear salon framed with metallic tubular lines and rose-colored lighting, clear display cases of most every glam fashion brand, Alain Mikli to Bvlgari, from Venice to Venice, Sierra Madre to St. Tropez—sooo smacking of Wilshire Rodeo, silicone out to here. Star-struck and breathless, we paused thereabouts for a quick Sulawesi-Kalosi to go, then planted ourselves at the lee end of a long storefront bench to talk some…history.
“So this massage I’m doing, it’s like acupuncture without the pins, aerobics without the perspiration…”
“Like root canals without the Novocain?”
“That’s weird, Meg,” said the second of two Marina ‘sisters’ seated further up, another Cal gurl with a beachy granular voice.
“Darlin’, you don’t even begin to know weird…”
“Makes me no nevermind, you’re OK by me. Really, I’ve got your back. ‘Sides, we could always go do some new shoes and hair…”
“Yeesh—I’m gonna get depressed something awful by the time I turn 30.”
This from a neighborly ol’ Yalie, frowning as several svelte Santa Clara milers strode gracefully by. These two fellow bench riders came on strong from our concentrated shadow area along sunshine street. But here now, slouching in the umbra of that starlet’s golden sunglass glow, a frumpy transplanted Ivy femiregular stroked her motley old hound, snoozing next to her on its vermiculated blanket pad at the end of a worn wooden bench. Spinster in progress, she was combing some dot-matrix printouts of a massive data dump, 3.5x lens readers perched on her sun-peeled nose—her Sonoma State sidekick planted tightly at her hip, leafing through a Marina Times.
To their right sat another familiar caffienated mainliner, notorious locally for setting his tongue loose, mind on download and prattling the day away. Even in the incongruously dark shade of an overhang lettered Parabola Coffee & Tea, he swept waves of sweat from his forehead, his frizzy melon pinging in the polemical heat, champing at his cup with the fervor of a pseudo-intellectual fire ant, while having no proximate hope of some topical massage a trois.
His secondary concern was keeping an eagle eye on his road-beaten old ten-speed—as if anybody along here would want it—and his pant legs rolled up, ready at any moment to mount his silver-red steed, missing as it was any semblance of a chainguard. Immediately behind them, peering out over their shoulders through the storefront windows, sat a trio of graying buzzards comparing their 401ks. Parabola’s point men spent far too much time spilling over three of the five stools lining its front window counter, perched like cantankerous pole birds, also plaintively watching what they once were now but a shadow of passing so youthfully past them.
“Community property, it’s a bitch…”
“Pre-nup, never without a pre-nup…”
“And she wants the whole house…not a chance, not one chance in hell.
“So, what can you do? The law’s on her side, and it sounds like she’s got a Gloria Superskank as a mouthpiece.”
“I’ll burn the place down first—so help me, I’ll torch it to the ground!”
“Yow, the ol’ insurance inferno—you? Get serious, Larry.”
Sipping Uzuri African Blend straight up over our shoulders, these high-wired counter dwellers were residue from the earlier caffeine rush, otherwise talking TV golf, reading news headlines to one another with all-knowing nods—the better sweatered middleman noticeably slumming with his more marginal Marina supplicants, jabbering like Stephen Sondheim at the 92Y. He sniffed on about snob-nobbing down at his parents’ gated spread in Palm Springs— certifiably pompous, jumping to his past touches with greatness, as in being seatmates with the rich and famous on cross-country business flights while a Wall Street haie financier.
The more vocal of his two suck-ups harped daily on his personal chemo treatments, dose by dose, bloodwork by platelet count, getting whittled down by his post-radiation treatments, hunched over in cancer corner, down in the colorectal dumps. Any tacit poignancy to the tale was damped by his grudging resistance to quitting his hard stuff and stogies over at the Harbor Lounge. His sadly degenerative, twice-daily lament was loud enough to boost caffeine demand among Pete’s current customers, particularly his deathwatch cohorts, whose light conversation had turned increasingly to heavy vigil.
The magpies’ empathy came naturally, combing as they did the obit pages with morbid regularity, everything pretty much referenced in the long-past tense. For instance, an early retired carpenter’s simple-minded approach to a landlord’s underwater travails comprised a speed-stream of useless, outdated platitudes with hard-earned attitude. I’d not have minded being one of the guys, just didn’t want to be one of those guys.
Hovering about were a sprinkling of plainly hungry young vulturettes, borderline listening through their teatime, sweet on spreading some fruitful sympathy over these lost, lonely wooses and wallets. Much of their idle conversation turned on amour and/or the lovelorn: how San Francisco was so tough on relationships, how bar-born romance hereabouts inevitably devolved into chafed bouts of suspicion, accusation, misconnection and disconnection, contention and derision, with all but futile stabs at concession or reconciliation. Some flings never changed. Then again, there were those turkey buzzards sitting there, so prime for the plucking for a few lusty pops come happy hour. Beyond these designing femmes, interspersed halfway out onto the sidewalk, stood technical writers, freelance designers and paralegals, wait staffers in waiting, a lagging real estate broker flapping his trenchcoat behind two short-cropped lesbians in love.
Bordering them on one side was a long counter of potent bulk bins: Earthy Gaia Blend, complex Kenyan—floral, fruity Kona to pungent, nutty Parabola’s Sake Reserve. To their right, the patient, cross-gen afficionados eyed meshball strainers, French presses, electric grinders—the emblazoned cups, teapots, drip filters and carafes to go with it all. Wait times to get served their ready brewed, double latte and espresso tamp could become a real withdrawal headache, but were well worth it to these eclectic, more cerebral and sedentary addicts, finally caressing their Mocha Lattes and Caffe con Panna, fiendishly cupping their joe, far too literate and discriminating to darken any Starbucks’ doors.
Several stools down, some off-clock Presidio Trust gardeners babbled on about Golden State on the rebound, talking big-man love and backcourt crushes like a lunchtable of teenaged boys—ungodly waste of a good buzz that that was. Still, stiff jolt notwithstanding, Parabola’s appeared relatively downbeat on such an uptempo Chestnut Street; its dark-roast brown décor and Mahler-Wagner soundtrack didn’t lift spirits much either—all the better to keep the harder-core java junkies temperamentally down and caffeine depleted, clinging to their mugs, jugs and stainless-steel tumblers, aching for another redeye pop, capping like Meg and company here, on the sunshine vitality sauntering by.
“Listen, I’m telling you, it’s Israel that has been making the desert bloom over these years,” Paulen rallied, not that the aroma of baristas short pulling lattes didn’t grab us, as well. “All the PLO and Fatah extremists have done is boom and doom it…”
“But they were kind of uprooted all of a sudden, right,” I closed in, at the same time noting more wobbly hunchback Marina old-timers among us, red veiny cheeks pinned back like Gila monsters, tattered double shopping bags dragging along. Whether booze, dope or caffeine, nobody was walking around San Francisco in an unaltered state any more. Could have used another dose my own self about then.
“And the Jewish people weren’t uprooted? The Ashkenazi, the pogroms?”
“What I mean is, Palestinians were displaced, disenfranchised in their own land,” I recalled what the MeccaJava elders would always bemoan over a pot or two of Assam Gunpowder tea, re-keying on the task at hand. “Wouldn’t anger and baggage come with any territory like that?”
“Ask the Israelis about it. However, note that they put their bitterness and resentment to work for themselves from the very beginning of their nation. Whereas Palestinians have just channeled it into terror, corruption and war…”
Things picked up considerably from there, most immediately in the sunny spot between two overgrown acacia trees, out front of the next-door branch bank and trust. Elements of Parabola’s more kinetic take-out crowd, a klatsch of serious distance cyclists circled their steeds just this side of the nationwide branch’s bank of ATMs, the brighter side of that shadowy coffee bench and overhang, having ducked into PC&T just long enough for some iced joes and double macchiatos to go.
Here, they fine tuned and otherwise tinkered with their gleaming road bikes for the long Mt. Tam and San Geronimo rides. Some others carefully lubed the derailleurs of their multi-speed Torelli and Lemond. An old school rider wiping down his black Mercier with redwall tires talked up a human rights relay race for the Tibetans, Uighurs and Falun Gong, then a Lifecycle rally against AIDS.
To a man, Team Weekend riders were festooned with sponsor logos, woven like rolling banner ads into the UV reflective SQ fabric and taped seams of their second skin cycling wear, stretched over wheel spoke-thin torsos and bulging thighs, squeezing critical masses of testicular fortitude, if not malignant growths.
“I’m just saying, maybe they need some security and dignity in their own land like anybody else,” I noted that as colorful as the bikers were, Paulen seemed curiously more preoccupied with their Sidi cleated-sole cycling shoes. “I mean, they’re down to less than 40 percent of original Palestine and still living in refugee camps, right?”
“And I’m saying they can’t bomb their way to peace and prosperity.”
“Well, sure, but,” I stammered, distracted by the little woman climbing into her oversized Navigator SUV like a pre-schooler into an upper bunk, hauling in a full bounty of Williams-Sonoma packages—knocking two pillows off the driver’s seat, which fell to the floorboard, then out the door. How that tyro homemaker leapt back to scoop them up so quickly was curious, all the more: With Marin plate frames, she must have been a Flow Yoga devotee—yeah, that whole flexy yoga thing… Which only made me chew and grind over that lingering smoke up on Pacific Heights ridge again, how close it might be hitting to home.
“Look, Herbert, Palestinians were under Jordan’s governance in the West Bank for over thirty years, and did nothing to create an actual homeland before ’67. Had they conducted themselves more responsibly, a Palestinian state could be celebrating 60 years of independence by now,” Paulen sneered. “Instead, they are a nation manqué.”
That contact coffee jolt was all well and good. Just beyond the savings bank, however, a different formula of chemical enhancement had made its way onto the street. NutritionPlus was a chain vitamin-supplement center that trafficked in ingestively augmented appearances and artificial performance. From larger-than-life cardboard bodybuilder cutouts in the store windows—toxic jock androids gone wild—to its high-lignon Cinnergen Vitameatavegamin balcony, the store was shot through with competitive edges and corners robustly cut. Stripped down shelves and coolers were bulked up with colorized plastic bottles of anabolic composite, flaxseed oil, chlorophyll juice, glucuronolactone and muscle tech creatine monohydrate, of Hydroxycut hardcore and Hot Rox extreme.
Bulging granite torsos in sleeveless aerobic pullovers barcode scanned jars and jugs of Fast-Twitch Cytogainer and alpha dog lipoic acid. I could spot big white buckets of Freak Fix fat-incinerating serum, lecithin whey, DMAE and DHEA boosters to supercharge the ol’ DNA. Combine all that with carbo loads of Pork Fusilli, Chicken Penne, Carmelized Mushroom Linguine and assorted glutamates from the Universal Pastopia restaurant across Chestnut, next to the cradle-to-grave GAP stores filling nearly every retail real estate hole opening wide. Reason enough why it became mighty cream and clear how so many would-be Serenas and studleys looked so pathologically ripped around here. Bench press some iron, pass the protein powder: couldn’t hold their sweat bands if I’d tried.
“You know, I really do wish you hadn’t gone there,” I said. My head had begun swirling with echoes of that accusatory sentiment, struggling to pin down just where I had caught that condescending tone so long ago. A glance at one of the GAP’s store windows that had found a massive fashion poster of Sarah Silverman, between John Mayer and Forest Whitaker. I couldn’t help somehow wanting to lay rubber on her sheets, wondering why the foul, catty comic reminded me so much of Her. “I mean, isn’t there sort of a sullied, gloomier side to all that blooming Israel stuff?”
“Is that so? Not going to start calling Jews mud people, are you, Heeb-ert? Not going demonological, over to the dark side yourself…”
“Dark side? Who me? Come on,” I retreated, in the face of another lithe tits-on-a-stick figured L.A. woman passing by, designer bag swinging, a pugilistic dog on leash reel. “Never have, never will, believe you me…”
“Nevertheless, your grasp of the facts is even more tenuous than I suspected.” A power couple in designer sweats whistled past us with armloads of NutritionPlus’s grade-A stuff—mega tubs of Muscle Milk, CellMass and Isopure—swell headed as they were for the gym. “Ergo, a little more pointed survey of regional history is in order, my friend. And you might want to take notes, as you may be quizzed afterwards.”
“Gonna be true/false, professor?” I joked thinly, nursing as I was a jacked-up shoulder and bad case of sarcopenia, flatfooted as the cops now deploying to reroute Chestnut traffic. What was this, some kind of frickin’ sociological field study of his? I was so wary of the prospect, chary from having provoked it, compact or no. “Or do I get a multiple choice…”
That’s about when She, er, it started coming to me—hit me like that diverted fresh truckload of cinderblocks over there: relationships—propped there on her Murphy bed, brunching over Seal Rocks. Doc and I then passed through the shade tree shadows of a CitiBank branch, back into the bright sunshine on Pierce Street intersection, slowed at the corner by a small crowd circling a green chalk body trace spread across the yellow-striped asphalt and a PG&E manhole cover.
We could overhear speculation as to how a frail, elderly woman had recently been mowed down by some rampaging red Prius in need of a pedal fix, which was left turning into a just-vacated loading zone. We might have stayed glued to the neighborhood conjecture and recriminations, if not so quickly distracted by what soon appeared to be gaining on us: some raucous sort of Chestnut Street parade. And whose eyes wouldn’t train on a parade?
“Multiple choice,” asked Paulen, “the way I’ve heard it, that’s what got you into trouble once before.”
“That so—says who?”
“Like I said, you can never tell…”
Care for more?
Chapter Twenty-Eight. Amid a rousing
procession, discordant voices, as all sorts
of history marshals on in due course…