Chapter Twenty-Two

 

“Comes a time to
come to terms with the
meaning of your words.”

 

“There, can you hear me? Nearly lost you for a second, but… No, he’s not as bad off as I’d suspected. Still, it’s not clear he’s as good for it as was hoped. What was that?

“Yes…easier if he had an R.F.I.D. chip implanted in his backside! Yes… might have to… intervene…for his own good…

  “Indeed…continue to work it…yes, atrocious timing, but let it go…fill you in a bit later…oops, losing you…had better go…(CLICK).”

We intended to cross Chestnut Street with the white walk light; that was the plan. But then there happened to be this…impediment. We got stalled at the slanted pedestrian walk by an onyx Nissan (350) Z Ninja GT, with mag/chrome-spokes and vanity California palm license plates reading BLK PWR, blocking our path—boy toy all the way. Only behind the wheel was this buzz-cut middle-aged honky in a white AC/DC tee shirt, French inhaling his Marlboros behind chrome aviator shades.

Brandishing Airborne Ranger decals on his windshield and rear window, he could have been regular army retired, a hard-stripe sergeant type, Gulf War vet on cyclosarin disability, still working out his government issues, over a Full Throttle energy drink or two. His side windows were flap down. He seemed all hopped up on Kid Rock, clicking through the pre-sets of his Kenwood tuner, red-lining the boombox Bose speakers surround-sounding his leathery twin-bucket cockpit, shaking Cynque’s sleek chrome exterior light fixtures, over twenty feet away. The Ranger/vet glanced in my direction, then revved twice loudly in sneering salute, bottle scarred and half cocked.

Rolling Thunder—that could have been dude’s handle, and we backed off a bit more from the curbing when he flipped his stereo scan to replay Savage Nation. I overheard Cynque Lounge’s valet attendants cracking as how the joker had been right-hand turning a deep, ugly groove into this square block of pavement all afternoon—apparently riding out some aging venom and anxiety. Pound it, pound it, pound it: likely as not, he had been stationed at the Presidio somewhere along the way.

Nice, stable duty that, but now he was an IED in perpetual motion, as if running and gunning from far uglier flashbacks to places like Basra, Benning or even Fort Bragg. Here, he seemed so out of place and context, rattling his sabres and corroded chains of command, cutting us peacenik types off at the pass in a self-styled exploratory sortie. Round and round the Marina—stewing like Gary once had, minus the slight of hand, cruising around Chestnut and Lombard the way Eric always did. I too knew the drill well, patrolling the perimeter, Fillmore to Pierce Streets and back again, spinning the radio dial—if only in a much lesser ride. Then as now, that was how guys in our state rocked…and rolled.

“Again with the phone calls,” I asked, admittedly fishing a bit, having overheard just enough of the phone gab, even through my tin-tin din, slight touch of paranoia creeping in. Heretofore, I had been killing these long minutes looking back on the lofty houses and condos heaped up the Fillmore Hill, gauging just how far we’d come today, how steep the climb back, realizing I hadn’t been down this way in quite a while, still fretting over that smoke up there. I had particularly focused on Pacific Heights’ roof lines—schools and TIC/apartment buildings like a fiscal year bar graph—the billowing gray-black smoke in windblown vicinity of Webster and Laguna Streets. Flashing sirens raced up and across, converging somewhere in between. That prospect hit me like a concussion grenade, shuddering back to Dame Thornia, even further to mom’s holiday mishap alarm and Central School. “Can’t get away from it, huh? Must have been pretty important…”

“You might say that,” Reese Paulen pressed down the call light on his wireless Jabra. He motioned me away from the crosswalk, to proceed on this unsunnier side of Chestnut Street. “An old, old friend checking in…”

“About…”

“Something about bridges to nowhere. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?”

“R-r-right,” I muttered, actually welcoming the change of course, as I really wasn’t excited about revisiting the scene of the dame’s third return any more than necessary. Still, I gazed morbidly upon the telescopic cordons of bay windowed pastel apartment buildings and cheesy two-flats extending out to the water line and Belvedere hills beyond.

Along Fillmore’s right side were the red-tiled turrets of a series of white Spanish-style apartment houses; smack between the convergent rows was a middle lane of parked cars and arching lightpoles. Even from this overhead trolley wired perspective, I could re-picture the 2 Cervantes casket box of a building fatally genuflecting out into the intersection. Midway between here and there, just beyond that sheeting green canvas doorway canopy, the lady’s place had itself collapsed like a misbaked devil’s food cake. Christ, how could she get trapped in there, that whole dumpy duplex coming down around her that way?  “Bridges…and walls.”

“I presume by that, you are referring to Israel’s security barrier,” Paulen said, a Fisherman’s Wharf-bound 30 Stockton bus finally horning Ninja out of the MUNI stop. “You aren’t suggesting Israel has no right to defend itself, are you?”

“No, hey…come on,” I sputtered after him. “No way I…was just thinking about some…music…”

“Look, Herbert, that is not a wall at all, but little more than a neighborly fence, as it were.”

“Of course it is,” I backpedaled further. No, look, time’s a wastin’, my head’s still throbbin’, back’s itchin’, and I don’t know what the hell’s goin’ on with doc, here.  “You’ve got me all wrong…uh, can we get off this track?”

 “Seriously, we are reasonably educated fellows, Herbert. It is incumbent upon us to give vital issues such as these a go, a thorough vetting, don’t you see? 

“It is, really?

 “Good god, man, if not us, who?

 “No, if us, for godsakes why?

The veteran ranger revved his 350-Z in militant defiance, burning through super unleaded at $4.25 per gallon, screeching like a teenage time bomb around the corner onto Fillmore south. Banging Motorhead through his subwoofer, he full throated the Ninja’s HKS Ti stainless flared tailpipes past some underwhelmed out-of-town honeys and the IsoBar Method yogaplex. Still, no Testarossa, that…

“Too late for that, my friend. Next you’ll be impugning the motives of America’s only reliable democratic partner in the Middle East.”

“Hey, who am I to question…” So, best shake things up a bit more, play a little devil’s advocate. Not that I was an advocate or anything. Not that the Palestinians and such were the devil. Keepin’ it real…even like maddeningly real—so agreed. Settle down, chump, better snap to—you could do this… 

  Well, take a number, get in line,” Paulen said, glimpsing Cynque’s hefty early dinner menu, pointing to the flat-iron steaks and tiger prawns. “Everybody and his blogger is jumping on Israel these days…”

“Actually, I don’t have a blog like that, at all—I mean, my own self.” Here I was, once again confronted with this whole Mideast conundrum, even after all this time. Again, with the morbid curiosity, the confliction affliction: Trying to understand the hows and whyfors of this eternal combustion was still like bearing witness to some foreign car wreck; though for the life of me, I couldn’t turn away. “So, what’s that got to do with me personally?”

“You tell me,” he said, as we proceeded along a curt row of single-story storefronts that hadn’t changed much structurally since latter Depression days, past a plunging dress salon and drab, cluttered drycleaners that had been there forever. “Anyway, It’s all revisionist grandstanding. What is Israel supposed to do, for godsakes? That country’s been under siege from day one.”

“Who said it wasn’t,” I groused, guessing he was looking about for the equally ageless next-door magic shop, which had recently pulled a Houdini disappearing act rather than joke around with the practicality of a gargantuan rent raise—searching for visions of the jackass masks and plastic upchuck window displays that always so impishly spirited passing appetites away. “If we are going there anyway, I do wonder why we keep hearing about that temporary security…fence being a solid 25 feet high and rigged with hot-wire electrodes and razor wire—like, 500 miles long…what’s with all that?”

“It’s called the explosive West Bank, Herbert—more precisely, Judea and Samaria,” Paulen looked askance, as we paused at the side of this busy thoroughfare, exchanging information, getting our second wind. “And most of what you’re hearing are typical anti-Israel canards…you don’t buy all that hateful media drek, do you?”

“Me? Hey, no…I’m only trying to wrap my brain around all this for once—I mean, if we do have to be scratching old sores, that is,” I propped myself against a parking meter, thinking up to speed outside this slender little fresh fish grill, hot as an unlocked, blackmarket iPhone, catches of the day being everything from Chipotle Mahi Mahi to barbequed Unagi and Ahi Poke. “Although I must say, I have seen pictures of the teeming camps, famished refugees, Israel controlling everything. And which hateful media drek exactly?”

“Pick your poison. But I can only say, let those Palestinians build a healthy, productive life for themselves in Gaza, like Jews have done next door,” he said, seeming to inhale the Thai Coconut Shrimp from the nearer of the grill’s sidewalk tables. “But no, instead they insist on fighting themselves and taking aim at Israel from all directions.”

“Sure, but putting up a separation barrier, or whatever you want to call it ,” I replied, nothing short of jim-jams setting in. Camp Rafah, Camp David: Once again, the confounded complexity of it all—nope, sorry, way too much—too, too much to this very day—any wonder I was once again shaking my head, beside myself at the utter hopelessness over there? But, crissake, if this was the topic at hand, so be it. I was on the clock, hook, whatever, and might as well show I’d done some reading on this. “By the way, why do I keep hearing that the U.N., World Court and all kinds of human rights organizations call the barrier illegal? Isn’t this bringing Israel more trouble than it’s worth? Why not just engage the region and hammer things out fair and square already? I mean, how frickin’ difficult can it really be?  It’d be win-win, getting peace and happiness all around—instead of being beside itself with rage.”

“Win what? More free radicals on the attack?” Paulen, like myself, sniffed the aromatic commingling of skewered and marinated seafood with a longboard surfer taqueria/pizzeria pouring Island Lager. “You’d think the Israelis are fashioning some glorious gated community for themselves, or something! Look, the country is under constant existential threat in that nightmare of a neighborhood…we’re talking about self-preservation, utter life or death…”

“Granted, but some people are concerned about not just what the barrier is, but where it is. They call it a land grab, right? Or at the very least, one whopper of a spite fence…”

 “More along the lines of a despite fence,” he remarked, now angling over toward a local megabank branch, to pull down some walking-around money from its ATM.

“How do you figure?” I followed him, though keeping civil distance as he punched in his PIN and transaction interaction, fixing on colorful Teatro Zinzanni circus banner fluttering on the utility pole above.

“Despite all Israel’s best efforts toward peace and stability, it still has come to this,” he continued, pocketing his cash and paper trail. “At least the separation barrier can give Israeli citizens some semblance of security despite all the bloody danger surrounding them.”

“That sounds like a no-win situation, if you ask me,” I said, rethinking Reagan to Gorbachev, fishing my own pockets for a bankroll of any consequence, coming up dry. “I mean, in the long run…”

“Truth of the matter is, that fence only goes where the trouble is. Now, there’s been nearly a 90% reduction in terror attacks from the West Bank alone,” Paulen said, leading back into the sidewalk flow, nettled by a burst of gameday cheering from the old Horseshoe sports bar across Chestnut. “Besides, the U.S. is doing the same thing along our Mexico border—without such results, I might add.”

“Yeah, and it looks like we’re paying for it, either way,” I gave ground to a pack of baggy young Mexican day workers who had just finished off some disposal jobs for a new Apple store further up the street. “And swimming against some pretty strong demographic tides—sociologically speaking. Not that that makes it right…or is making anything better.”

“Better for whom,” he asked, halting in the face of a firemist red Mercedes SLK darting ahead of us into the bank’s U-turned drive-up lane. “Sorry, but Israel simply can’t afford to let Tel Aviv end up like Ciudad Juarez or Baghdad.”

“Or like Gaza City…how that’s ending up?”  There you go.  What was that recipe again? Let’s see—simmer, then stir to a boil, served open-face for good measure. Part of the job description, but how do I squarely circle back around to the playbook and plan of attack…

  “Oh, I see, blame it on the Jews,” Paulen sneered, somewhat taken aback by the reckless roadster, then averting from the dismissive wave by its likely Larkspur-bound driver, around to the boldface headline of a throwaway city newspaper gone unnoticed heretofore. “There, see? ‘Jew Charged, Mayor Wants Him Out’. It always comes down to the Jews.”

 “Actually, that’s got to do with City Supervisor Ed Jew. And I believe the guy’s Chinese,” I pulled a copy from the bright blue freebie newsbox, wrapping it around my Times.

 “Hmph, likely story–but who says two things can’t be equally true?”

  “That what she said?” Had no idea where this came from.

  “Depends on what she you are referring to, now doesn’t it…”

    Care for more?

Chapter Twenty-Three. A brush with
idealism sparks rough analogies and the
comparative legacies of disputed lands…