Chapter Twenty-Six


“So choose to go with the flow.
But others may soon show a
different way to go.”


          “Plus the fact that John’s gonna make it to the altar before me really gets me to worrying about myself…”

           “How you figure?”

           “It’s like I’m done, man, I’m done…”

           “Who’s done? Look at those guys over there in the funny suits. They’re what’s done…”

           “Sad thing is, sometimes I think we could really make a go of it. I mean, once Stacy gets out of rehab…”

  Three guys were leaning against a Toyota FJ, more specifically against its black vinyl fender splashguards, the rest of the Cruiser dulled with a film of off-road grime. They sucked on the clear plastic cups of iced Jasmine Lime and Hibiscus Breeze Coolers, chill in their cargo shorts and UnderArmour tanks, getting in a little navel exercise. Couple of ex-Cal rugby players over from Danville, a center and a wing, with a battle scarred tagalong flanker. The yoke yellow FJ was decked with trail bike hooks fitted to its tailgate tire, gray Thule box and neon green surf boards up top as though just back from Feather River, headed down to Point Sur for afternoon curls.

The trio was swapping spit over a brassy mashup medley of ‘Fidgety Feet’ by Eddie Condon, Satchmo’s ‘Mahogany Hall Stomp’ and the ‘Shake It And Break It’ of Sidney Bechet—having marched over from that zoot-suited Dixieland sidewalk combo out front of the nuevo-retro, adobe mission-style Marina Theater—and were otherwise taking in Chestnut Street’s other, sunny side here, as well as the fully loaded racks.

“Aww, who knows what women want? Hell, I’d go see a good therapist about it and the CTE myself, if I could find a dude in that racket any more…it’s all run by chicks. Somebody should start a Website, like, lay it all out there for guys like me…”

 “Shit, man, the Bay Area Chapter would say: around here, women think they’re all tens, just want a smiley-face, basketball trim dunderhead with a fat wallet, somebody they can parade around to gallery openings, dinner parties and their girlfriends’ weddings.”

“Well, that leaves me out…Im getting shredded by threes and fours.”

“Come on, bud, you gotta sack up…stop punchin’ holes in your man card, and pull on your big-boy pants.”

 “Yeah, suck it up, get me a testosterone boost, or something…whew, can you believe all the cleavage around here?”

That’s not to say Reese Paulen and I weren’t doing the same. For we couldn’t miss it either, could hardly turn away. We had crossed back over Chestnut with some generic Advil when, without warning, cleavage was not to be denied. Majestic peaks, heavenly valleys: We had been stopped cold at the sound of that aging Dixieland combo’s rendition of ‘Feelin’ No Pain’, by Miff Mole’s Molers, yet were rapidly reheating over the décolletage on display. Here, the Marina women were more radiant by degree, sizzling by the nth degree—noses pitched to the heavens or deep into their cell screens—speed climbers shopping around like their plastic was going out of style, along the way boldly hawking their wares.

They were ducking high and hard into a chic little dress shop with rising hemlines, patent foldover shooties and chandelier light reflecting off its arching, starburst stamped metal ceiling like straight out of Milano. No denying, they were emerging blindingly tuck n’ rolled in Juicy tracksuits from a slimline Sun Glass Hut to screen test their Persols and Pradas.

At every turn, we faced rock-firm uppies in halter tops, erect nipples punching through trapeze shirts with hints of areola rising, ripe melons stretching meshies, torpedo alley in ribbed tube tops, hard-disc AAs in under wired flex bras, sloppy floppies in graphic tees, provocative V-necks, overstuffed scoopnecks—fleshy mounds tanned, white freckled, and every shade burgeoning in between. Pouty dishes in wireless push-ups, tiny cupcakes to full double Ds in body-hugging henleys; passionate come-ons, well-pointed weapons, 10k legs down to here: I recalled how the druthers could so easily go either way.

“Dude, beav and cleav…all those succulent breasts and thighs,” the trio affirmed, albeit in descending order.

“Yeah, but no touchy, no feely. You touch ’em, she owns you.”  

 “Doesn’t stop ’em from hangin’ their business all out there, though. Like, real loosy-goosy….”

 Then there was the occasional silicone set, improbably defying gravity aboard stick-figure frames, bursting full-form tankinis topping off shapely shorts and shapeless skin-tight jeans that seemed better fit for a 12 year old, bouncing to the beat of gliding slides—just more cleavage ranging qualitatively from utters to utterly bodacious, daring bosoms by design, and by the dozen. Brazen, up front, out-there enticement: It was the showroom demonstration with negligible prospects for a test drive—hey, this was no case of simply copping a feel on VJ Day. All in all, the procession was nothing but tits-up titillation for booty callin’ crack and crevice addicts raised on cable porn, Penthouse and a lecherous world of laddie rags.

 “Don’t kid yourself—all the chicks are loose in San Francisco. If they weren’t loose and lookin’ around for an easy romp and roll, they wouldn’t be here…” 

“I hear ya…the women are looser and us dudes are just losers…”  The trio rattled on, in the wake of another passing hourglass figure.

“Man, still and all, that chick there is so beautiful…”

 “Just beware of blondes bearing all black,” said the smaller, stouter of the rugby rats, seemingly less after-affected by all the game-on headers, clearly not one to mince his words. He cautioned along the lines of how the golden haired could be so wispy, winsome—light as lecithin granules, yet lethal as industrial strength lye—pale damsels coming across as curious, impressionable, elusive, skittish or indecisive, until the emotional hammer fell. “Probably wheels her daddy’s Bentley…making, like: outta my way, dork, I’m way too busy maintaining my cool…”

“Fellas mind?”

“Nnnot a problem…” chimed the amigos, backing off the splashguards.

Must have been the Cruiser’s owner, scuffling his orange and black trailrunner shoes across Chestnut Street, authentic Patagonia, head to toe. Hoisting a bag of provisions from the drug store, he was scowling, restaking his claim, firing an ‘off my FJ’ warning shot across the hood of his Toyota, apparently raring to ride. The jocks-turned-freelance marketing ‘consultants’ begrudgingly obliged, slinking into foot traffic as Mister Off-Road checked for fender scratches or any other aluminum body damage, not to mention a parking ticket or two.

“Cant believe those guys either, huh,” I dismissed, half blinking, half winking at all the bro and ho stuff, plain and simple, wasnt no like. as we slow strolled by, well within earshot. A little idle bro talk, nothing I hadn’t heard long before. “Some red-ass guys…”

“Yes, lower down the evolutionary chain, to be sure,” Paulen replied. “Mores the pity.”

Nothing pitiful about what Im seeing, though… Although still shaking off the Crabber attack, I had to take another stab at nailing down more of doc’s predilictions, what crossed his bright red lines, was beyond his personal ken and pale. If only they weren’t all so young, huh?

 Why? Young is beautiful, to a point, that is.

 What…point? We had slowed to a crawl by now, in rubbernecking awe, even while things were otherwise blurring, coagulating, speeding up again. Even though we were veering toward our expiration dates, the whole female bodily tease struck me in the groin, just the same. 

  Rhetorically speaking, Herbert. In actuality, I love the little ladies to death,” Paulen seemed swivel-necked, yet peculiarly edgy about it all—fully preoccupied, showing frustration, even a trace of aggravation and rancor. “But I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse. Boulder’s not exactly Lourdes, you know.” Then he just as abruptly appeared to suppress it and turn the page.

“That so,” I edged closer. Still, this territorial staredown was not nearly so fascinating as the veiled visions of solemn darkness coming toward us—most authentically penitent, head to toe. For amid all the exposed eye candy, all the chatty, calculated wiggle and jiggle, what appeared to be a mother and daughter pairing skimmed quietly along, drawing more second glances than anybody half as clad. Busy as was Chestnut Street, the leisurely shorts-and-sandals crowd hastily cleared a swath for these mysterious Arabesque females in full-figure burqas, a shrouding mass of Muslim black in maid and maiden sizes, hijab veils baring only narrow slits for their wide, darting eyes.

Around Riyadh, Baghdad, Dearborn or Fremont, eyes might have made quite the fashion statement.  But here they looked damned near…medieval, as though traversing the Koranic Kaaba of Mecca or Medina, only ag least a dozen or more centuries ago. Maybe misdirected enroute to their Divisadero Street mosque, the apprehensive, devotional due made a comparative mockery of any attempts at false modesty by the contemporary Marina hotties. In their own right, by contrast, they could be seen as somewhat exotic, if not prohibitively erotic.

Doc followed the women’s bagging burqa shadows and black billowing flow. Other sidewalkers filled in the wake just left by two apparently Muslim women coursing so far off their divine spiritual path, now scurrying toward the 22 Fillmore bustop. Many liberated young urbies craned for a double take on what Allah hath wrought. Lord knew we could be counted among them, one wag cracking whether these were observant Muslims or bank robbers in niqab drag.

“In any case,” Paulen said, “you want Israel should attempt to bargain in good faith with the likes of that?”

“How could you tell they were really Arab, let alone Palestinians?” I caught that yellow FJ Cruiser roaring its way out Chestnut—surf’s up—a PC green Subaru Outback quickly swinging a mid-block U-ey to nose into its parking spot, looking anywhere to avoid going back down this miasmic road. “Hell, maybe it’s a goof. Ever heard of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence?”

“Hmph, perpetual indolence, maybe,” Paulen said, as we stepped around and between trash barrels and a thicket of real estate magazine stands and flower boxes along this three-storefront stretch, crowned with a silver sunrise Art Deco façade. “Besides, Arabs, Palestinians—distinction without a difference. How shall I say it: They’d all rather fight than thrive, except for the mullahs and sheikers scooping the pretrodollars off every barrel.”

“They have much of a choice, do they,” I asked, voice raised despite myself. Car horns blared at that traffic-stopping Outback as its SoCal-style driver, sporting an Oregon football jersey, ducked in for a Tazo Iced Passion Tea. “The Palestinians, that is?”

“Of course they do. They have from the beginning of the whole Middle East mess…”

“As in the beginning of the…occupation?”

Fetching as they were, the Marina’s oversexed secularists were even more appealing because of their overwhelming tone and vigor. Rigor of mind, strength of body and spirit: that was the ascendant religion, the Falak al aflak, the Holy Grail along sunny Chestnut Street today. Work out, work it out, work it into your profile, and let your presence work for you—that was the latest mantra, the key to socioprofessional Elysium here. At least until we hit upon the onset of a neuro-toxic zone—a little old pocket of multivariate chemical enhancement that served as antidote to this newfangled antioxidantal gospel.

For one, there was the inevitable Starbuckian syndrome, 400 caffeine mgs of hot, black Caffe Venti, dispensed by hard-wired baristas: lubing the lobes of Marina chattering classes who were spreading the newsprint over Mod Todged decoupage tables; Cappuccino Grandes, half-caf skinnies, muscular double pumps—skim the whip to fuel the manic noodling and napkin doodling going on at front window counters; tapping and clicking their laptops to Starbeat satellite radio, on a dopio espresso IV drip. So triggered, I ducked into the head to leak and flip a side.

Outside here, we sidestepped an aged stroke victim in a manual wheelchair, sneaking some chrome-flasked Jaegermeister into his tall Americano, chain-smoking Merit 100 brownies, annoying every wired body downwind.

“That’s your word, not mine,” Paulen said, stifling a cough. “Besides, a reading of history demonstrates the Palestinians were like that even before 1948’s partition plan.”

“Like what?” As if I didn’t already know his answer.

“They were already self-detonating when Israel and TransJordan were still just pipe dreams—before you could say Ben Gourion.”

“You mean when the UN carved up historic Palestine…” Smoking, I was still somewhat used to, even if only in the secondhand mode.

“Carved up’s your term, not mine,” Paulen huffed. “Point of fact, Palestinians had their place at that table in ’48, they were offered a homeland of their own, side by side…”

“Or was it at gunpoint of fact?” Stir, baby, stir.

Waving that cloud away, we then soaked in the carcinogenic ambience of the Harbor Lounge, one of the Marina’s last-gasp neighborhood dives—a wombish den of darkness even on this energetic sunshiny day. Inside, old-time mood ringers nursed their malignant growths over Miller draft and Manhattans, swinging from elation to indigo, depending on the ESPN feed. Hunched over pitchers and popcorn baskets, they were largely over-50 league softballers with major boilers and rebuilt knees, mostly lifeless all-day suckers, moldy jocksniffers and plus-four duffers holding over from the A’s and Raider glory days, endless loop revering from Bando to Billy to Montana to Willie and Big Mac to groaning over the slim draft pickins and grim late 70s-like prospects of Bay Area teams of the day.

Still, a late Giants splash hit sent bar-thumping cheers through Harbor’s open window front, firing up even the low-glow dock and cop pensioners huddling around a sidewalk trashbin, glassy eyes squinting, drawing deep and long on their stubby cigarettes, turning this stretch of Chestnut into a slender slice of Casbah. Maybe they were just fourth-generation Faithful diehards dying in place, but weren’t too blitzed or wasted to sneak notice of what such coots still called the pulchritude on parade.

Fortunately, these wheezing buttheads were abruptly outnumbered, outgunned, and clearly out lunged—grumpy barflies flitting about the Bayside Lounge, waiting on The City to extra nickel and dime tax their well drinks, if not just pure tar and nicotine attrition. And yet the nagging back-asswards notion remained: how come the city’s bars were designated smoke-free zones? Why shouldn’t the lung hacking lushes be sealed away inside these hopeless haunts, hot-housing each other’s tumors, instead of desperately puffing around out here, subjecting the health-conscious to their coffin nails?

Whatever, once through the smokescreen—thick as mosquito spray—finally past their bipolar mood and attitude adjustment, we could savor the commingled aroma from an upscale little Asian-themed eatery—quiet and understated, with lots of bamboo shoots, rice paper lanterns, framed silkscreen and calligraphy. Dragon’s Head offered Lemongrass Chicken and Tea-Smoked Duck, with Curry Mi Fun to complement the Steamed Hawaiian Butterfish and Crystal Prawns: So civilized, moderately gentrified; the narrow stir-fry palace had been seeded by some Taiwanese Stanford business grads, and Kung Pao and Sichuan Beans were about as lively as the place got—Palo Alto casual to the core. Such was this yin-yang side of Chestnut Street: cirrhotic, cancer stick figures propped up against Chronicle newsboxes to vigorous young pillars of health, in the blink of a hazy, irritated eye, nary a whiff of compromise in the air.

“Gunpoint? Not in the least, Herbert…and what exactly is your point?”

“Nothing…just that I’ve heard the Palestinian detonating was not all self inflicted…”

“Trust me, Palestinians have an inbred capacity: They never miss an opportunity to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory.”

“Where have I heard that before?” Reflex response: In fact, She said it over and over, as I recalled, mainly about me. Suddenly I was confronting my own frontal lobe, semantic memories remaining somewhat fuzzy. But a slight paring back of the parietal pulled up painful experiences past—episode by unsettling episode.

  Slowing the flow to a DMV crawl was yet another sign of the Chestnut times, ‘Close Out. Lost Our Lease. Everything Must Go Before We Do’. Only this fire sale was particularly painful, being as is was for a Marina shop that predated the very advent of the high technology being newly canonized in the Apple computer cathedral directly across the street. Penman’s had forever been the district’s stationery store, and was now sadly moving decades worth of merch at any cost. Out with the old: card tables lined neatly along the sidewalk were heaped with dusty writing sets, three-ring binders, pocketed presentation folders and outdated photo calendars of New England foliage and Yosemite falls, everybody browsing down. Inside the condensed storefront was a wall of yellowing boxed greeting cards, counter cases of fountain and ballpoint pens crowded by sets of mechanical pencils and soft gum erasers.

 Makeshift wooden shelving added willy nilly over the years creaked with graph tablets, reams of colored construction paper, and cut down cartons of compasses, pencil sharpeners, T-squares, and green plastic straight edges, right angles and protractors. Wobbly racks rotated with vinyl portfolio cases and appointment books. Long-time regulars pored over Penman’s dead tree remains, consoling the sisterly spinster owners as if paying respects before the casket of a full life’s work. Sad but true: the shop hadn’t changed this inventory much for years on end, much less its retail look. Here was a paper artifact in a virtually paperless world, hard copy when soft PDF copy would do. The writing was on Penman’s Garfield postered walls, and the only suspense left was what ill-conceived, write-off enterprise would overpay to shoehorn into this cozy little commercial space in its place.

 “What who said?”

“No-body…nothing…” I noticed as how the Dixieland combo was fading out with some fanfare and a drumroll into their 90-proof brand of take five in the sunshine. Drowning them out further, an orange on white Volkswagen convertible passed blaring a hip-hop mashup of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. To this day, every time I heard that rasta number, things seemed to turn hazier and more unclear. All this cross stimulation was ricocheting off my occipital lobe, side to side. “Besides, it’s all ancient history, right?”

Pulling up closely behind the rolling VW igloo was that head-banging Ninja ranger, once again revving his dual glass-packs to accelerated effect. Tripping the car alarms of parked Ferraris, Lams and Carreras along the way, he appeared to have victory lapped around by way of Pierce Street—steed horselessly swaybackyet velocitized by the American Graffiti-style rod and custom rallye over at Mel’s. There, the Bay Area’s primo vintage rides periodically spilled out of the Drive-In’s parking lot, lining Lombard Street like some Concourse d’ Enginuity.

The airborne vet likely saluted ’32 Ford T roadsters, chopped and channeled, running Jimmy-supercharged hemi’s, stroked and bored, Isky and Moon Equipped—chromed-out spoked rims and candy apple metalflaked to make Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth pop a wheelie in teardrop tribute. The ranger had to have air horned toward an array of mid-50s small-block Chevys: Bel Airs, Nomads, early Corvettes: ported and polished, factory fuellie, Duntov cams—Edelbrock manifold in, Hedman headers out, magnetos firing, chromed-out lakes side pipes aflame. Hand-rubbed lacquer outside, rolled and pleated interiors, Hurst shifting through four-speed Muncie boxes, peeling wide white sidewalls and magnesium slots: Oh, there might have been a low-ride ’50 Merc coupe, or a rakish ’40 Ford ragtop hiding a Hilborn-injected 450 under the hood; a two-seater turquoise T-Bird or two—more than enough of a nitromethane rush to get any gung-ho gearhead going on all eights. Then the ranger circled back around to Chestnut Street, seemingly aiming his hobbled torque and horsepower in our general direction.

“Ancient history? Perhaps so—that is, if it weren’t still playing out to this day,” Paulen said, voice rising. “And what do you know about it—or who for that matter. And by all indications, you are in need of a good, quick history lesson yourself right about now.”

“Forget I said anything any of this, OK?”  The stress resumed crashing through my globus pillidi, super colliding with the superior colliculus at my subthalamic nuclear core. In two shakes, on came a bad case of the tangled cranial and trigerminal nerves, jimjam tremens setting in–more Marina backfire turning me mobile green. “Just a figure of speech, another poor choice of words.”

“Ah, but you must always remember that age-old Jewish admonition, Herbert—never, never forget…”

 Care for more?

Chapter Twenty-Seven. Add a canine element
to the equation, which only tips the balance
 toward more biting, searching exchanges…