Chapter 17

COVIDose: …Stay home, mask-up, social distance—what’s so damn social about this? Hel-lo, really, where the hell is everybody? Oh, I know, they’ve all abandoned ship, decamping to Tahoe or someplace in Idaho—blown town like an offshore windstorm until the Coronavirus washes out. Everybody else is locked down in isolated fear and hypochondria—bingewatching cable’s high crimes and dystopia, stressin’ over who Zoomin’ who. Well, not this Luddie…So REVANCHE , go NOW…

____________________________

“You still there?”

“Uh, not at the moment, no…”

“What? Haven’t blown, have you?!”

“Not yet, but I’m still packing like a mad man…”

It had been a weekend lost in space thus far. Tight, tormenting spaces—making room for all the moving cartons, trying despite myself to figure and measure what would fit and where, let alone why. The task at hand was cramming years and years of personal worldlies, of accumulated clutter and domestic detritus worthy of a hoarder extraordinaire into some sort of orderly payload that was about to cost me a royal ransom to relocate/remove. Clock running, calendar pages turning quickly toward V/E-day: I sorted, folded, bundled and boxed everything in sight, wall to wall, with nary a clue as to where I would possibly take it all beyond the curb out front of the Delphoria. That was, if I could have even begun to work out where plan B might be.

Disorientation and dissonance surged through me as a hard homeless likelihood sank in: uprooted, untethered, yet saddled just the same. Running scared, walking scared, shuffling scared—hell, crawling scared—shitless and shirtless, pissing in pants, still packing away. Got so I had to get out of the place for a spell—this aeonic homebase that was quickly turning into a nowherehouse staging area, day by night by day. Late Sunday afternoon, I’d come up for air and some free WiFi, was sucking on a coffee shop dark roast when I opened an email full of exclamation points, soon followed by this iPhone vibration.

“Well, chill—don’t you budge an inch from your place, hear me?”

“And what, wait to get booted out by the sheriff? I don’t know about…”

“Listen to me, Ken,” Peter Tallian stressed. “If you vacate voluntarily, you lose any and all legal leverage you might have.”

Leverage? Here?” I asked futilely. “Hey, no offense—by why are you telling me this, anyway?”

“Because they can’t do this, understand? And I’m willing to see to it they don’t,” he said. “So stay put, and don’t even think of signing their whackjob acknowledgment notice. Nothing good will come from it, believe me.”

“Hey, I really appreciate it, but I’m just about to be kicked to the curb with a pile of bursting boxes. How could I ever afford someone like you?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just let me help you—listen to your attorney on this…”

Wow, my attorney…look at me, so lawyered up. From first impression, Tallian appeared to be a toilsome, well-rounded downtown attorney type, but apparently had another, more egalitarian side—a flip side, at that. He went on explain that although commercial real estate law was his bailiwick, empty storefront lease issues near Mint Hill and a lumbering REIT in Dogpatch were really grinding him down—to where he was beginning to hate himself for it. Yet turned out he had long maintained a discreet, off-the-clock practice in the depths of the Tenderloin, genesis of which was a third-year internship partially facilitated by Golden Gate Law School.

He confided that his alter legal ego led him periodically to Leavenworth, the street, on over to Hyde—and a housing/homeless support clinic that ministered to needy folks and families, from the suddenly dislodged to chronic street denizens and the habitual cuff ‘n’ stuff. Added to that was Alison Paige-Warner hitting her budding partner’s sweet spot by enjoining him to balance the real estate shark suit with big-boy savior pants. Something to do with establishing full client service, contingency and/or pro bono though it may be and looked like I may have been fittingly hanging in the balance.

“Reality accepted. What choice do I have, right,” I asked, iPhone and coffee cup quivering in my hands.

“All right then,” Tallian said. “Meet me down by Turk and Hyde tomorrow afternoon. We’ll get to work on this straight off. And bring any paperwork you have on the whole termination deal.”

“If I can find it all…”

“Just stand your ground there. You absolutely have to find it all.” CLICK.

sr dingbats

“Got a hex head?”

“Yah, I guess—in here somewhere. What for?”

“Damn knob needs tightening up there again.”

“Tell me about it…”

Advice equivocally taken, I’d wheezed back uphill to the old Delphoria, French roast grande in hand, dreading yet another doorframed notification. Nothing new on the mullion or transom, nothing under the threshold sweeper—I just keyed into more irresolute coming and going, staying in or piling out—everything still heaped about the place like a storage locker on a fractious faultline. Vossarian’s admonishment or no, I was resigned to filling and duct taping more boxes, stacking them about the searingly sunny apartment in a random access order—heaps and piles strewn across the hardwood floor like a bungled, burgled hit job—facing the prospect that they could end up anywhere from a nanoscale Bernal cohab to Tenderloin deathtrap to a ReCology trash compactor. Bouncing off walls, enmeshed in corrugated cardboard and cellophane, I wabbly separated the need from the not to the amplified tune of KPOO-FM’s Monday morning blues, soon hearing an authoritative knuckle tap at the door.

Christ, had to be Foster Norguard, or his lawyers, or for godsakes the sheriff: Instead, It was Doyle from upstairs outside the peephole—neighborly knocking to check out my ruckus, music-wise, if not the latest on a his rumored manager pro tem. I finally opened the door a narrow crack, as I just kept assuring him tightly that everything was great with me and I was fine…no problem, no big thing…let me just crank the stereo down a notch and I’d get right back to him—slam. When I finally did, damned if he wasn’t darkening my door all the more.

“Sure you’re all right in there?”

“Yeah, fine…”

“Everything cool—like with the Rent Board and everything?”

“Uh, so far…sorry, I’ll dig around for that driver…”

“Mucho bizarro in river citygot me to thinking, ever hear whatever happened with that intense chick who lived in #2 here,” Doyle asked, sneaking an exploratory peek through the cracked door. He explained that there was talk around the bar down at the Mauna Loa, about rumors of a dead gal found on Moulton Street—speculating on who she was and where was she from. “Know anymore about her?”

“Which one exactly?” I hedged, not sure how or what he knew about my current straits, wondering if he could see I was already halfway out the door.

“That drama queen with the strange rich dago greaseball sniffiin’ around for her…”

“Oh, right—hard to say, you know how they come and go,” I said, closing the door ever so gradually.

“Just hopin’ we don’t have another Evelyn on our hands.”

“Hey, not to worry about that.” Evelyn? Where was he coming from with that Delphoria lore? Thinking about Tomarrah was harrowing enough. Which set me to reliving the whole #2 bugaboo—that dark, cursed little room during the rainy season, me huddling close to its balky old fireplace, with nary a ray of sunshine in sight. I shuddered just rethinking that they wanted me in there again at any price. “I’ll take care of that faucet knob for you right off.”

“Uh-huh, got a handle on it, do you?”

“Totally—like I said, I’m all over it…”

“By the way, I got a notice from the post office, they’ve got some letter for me,” he said, turning toward the stairs to his fourth floor room. “So I’m headed over. Need anything between here and Steiner Street?”

You did?” I replied, head swiveled his way, second thinking through a sliver of daylight. “Uh…no, Doyle—I’m good, thanks…”

Good? Not even close. Hex? Tools? Are you shitting me?! Like I was going to find those about now. With Granger shrugging, climbing up the stairwell on bone-on-bone knees, I deadbolted the door and turned back to the panic and pillage within. Busywork sorting, cramming and taping away—sole belongings stacked and bagged, heaped, bundled and piled ceiling high with no discernible reason nor order. Dizzy with the odor of Magic Marker ink, I eventually drifted into memories of the room next door—cramming all that down real fast. Though disoriented no end by now, I did manage to move boxes around for some breathing room, like puzzling out a Rubik’s Cube of cubic inches. Coordinate, compress it all: this is your life in cardboard—and dug my way over to the bay window and my spool round writing table to take further stock.

I pushed through stacks of notes, clips and discarded drafts, firing up the MacBook, clawing away at a nail worn keyboard with no particular row to hoe. Finish your story, Alison reverberated like acute tinnitus, you’ve got to finish that book—which sent me to gazing out the bay’s three stick vertical windows, to a bank of post-1906 apartment buildings across the street, floor upon floor, year after year of detached affairs and dramas on indiscreet display in and of themselves. But I needed to snap-to and focus, jot down some hippocampal withdrawals, get my story together before it termed out. Maybe best to build some distance in there, even go third person on some of this intra-house business—yah, neutralize the ambient noise—so as to lube those lobes along. Lessee, it went something like…

Sure, I remember leaving Hawaii’s swaying Banyans and beachy rainbows, landing in the middle of a torrential San Francisco winter storm, the 1980s bearing down. Streets were slick and glistening, rain blowing horizontally, parallel to the pavement. On the front gate of this ancient Pacific Heights Victorian was a For Rent sign reading: Private Room, Pleasant Price. Soaked and blue cold in my long-stored Volvo, I called the number and this Nigel bloke invited me over for a walk through of the house.

I’d never seen anything like this place, four floors of what the chipper live-in manager called mixed usage. More specifically, the Aussie explained that this Queen Anne was built in 1891, one of three buildings on the block that survived the 1906 Earthquake, and had changed little over the years. Its bottom two floors were three-bedroom flats, but three and four were this anachronistic single room-occupancy hotel. Been that way since day one; Pacific Heights had traditionally hosted a variety of these set-ups, called them guesthouses for newbie young post-war professionals laying roots in The City, especially for downtown employ. Part pensione, part social club—but mainly glorified rooming houses in chopped up old mansions—their days were increasingly numbered, be they Baker Acres or an old sailors’ home.

Yet here Delphoria still stood, certified cozy, convenient and quake-proven, month-to-month with dirt cheap rent in a snooty, sky-high neighborhood. It was owned by now retired grocer, Marvin Rosenor, yet, who small world remembered me from way back in 1978 and gratefully approved my moving in. So I jumped on its lone available room to wait out the rainy season—strictly short term at the most. Nigel said Chico State party boys shared the basement flat with the law student brother of an L.A. Lakers NBA star back then. The main-floor flagship flat was flush with those Grateful nuclear family Deadizens, and everybody in the eight upstairs rooms seemed basically copasetic. Eager as I was to get out of the Volvo and Pacific storm fronts, first and security, no questions ask, this was a key deal I couldn’t refuse, even if only for a few rainy months.

If only room number two wasn’t so small, dark and hemmed-in from the get-go, closing in on me by the day. Cursed room #2 there just beyond my still Lahaina-postered white wall, sandwiched between two noiseboxes like surround-sound wireless boardinghouse earbuds—BeeGees and Air Supply to one side back then, Colon/Blades’ ‘Siembra’ salsa on the other. Or the parade of progressive, transgressive chicks who freely based in there ever after—most recently the one who’d been hiding out from her loathsome lothario. And that was just the beginning of this peculiarly outre housewarming tenure…but wait…later…

Ringtone…gone to voicemail… My phone was iCharging, and how I wished I was doing the same. End of story for now; shutting down the laptop, I hurdled a mound of moving boxes to pull up the message. It was from Alison, who updated me that she had finalized the exploratory letter to Hassett’s agent, Craig Prescott, and was sending it to me as a PDF attachment. She instructed me to DocuSign off on it and prepare to email the document directly to Prescott, then print out the letter and snail mail it to his New York address ASAP, as well.

Nothing was said about Peter Tallian’s involvement on the termination front, but it was clear from the firmness of her voice that somehow, somewhere the twain shall meet.

I only hoped I wasn’t going to get mincemeated halfway. Meanwhile, back to that hexhead, whether I was still managerial material or not…christ, what was that whumping down hall… 

Care for more?

CHAPTER 18. Conflicting views create
a cognitive dissonance that carries through
grimmer reapings to a ghostly glimmer
of flicks and rock for the ages…