Chapter 18

COVIDose:Whew, this is starting to get to me—feeling a bit dizzy, breathin’ heavy, tumbling in the gut—like that…Maybe best to…RESOLVE, go NOW…

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              “In my view, you will be far better off in the long run.”

“You think?”

“Of course, you wouldn’t want to take the hit on your personal record, credit rating, etc. that would ensue from a U.D..”

“I totally see what you’re saying…”

Better judgment, points graciously given, gratefully accepted, except for the fact that wasn’t the exactly the route I was presently taking. Even more surprising about this unsolicited callback was that I could hear it at all over the dull hum and roar. For having barely managed to snail and e-mail those letters to Craig Prescott in New York, the former return addressed to Alison’s P.O. Box, I had just grabbed a last-gasp 19 MUNI bus growling and rattling down Polk Street. True to form, it was a fuming rear-engined diesel with air brakes hissing at every stop through the still rawhide Gulch. ‘Doors are opening…Please hold on’ chirped the GPS-synched audio track as entry/exit wings snapped open and shut to the radio squawking and crinkle folding of newspapers, the muffled beats of scattered digital devices.

Stop requests had pinged across flashing yellow ceiling crawls, the articulated coach flexing like accordion bellows over intersection humps, to where I began plowing through a center aisle lined with Monday mopers, straphangers sagging and shifting like hooked slaughterhouse beef against bright yellow hand loops and poles. Despite all the disconnected chatter of other cell phoners, the Sutter Street attorney’s counsel had come in loud and clear. But whether it came a stop too late was a closer call entirely.

“So again, I advise you to get out of your unit in time to meet their deadline. Then consider going the Wrongful Eviction route…it could result in a considerable payout, I’ll have you know.”

“Really…well, I appreciate your calling back like this.” I waffled between wanting to keep his white- shoe, brassy oak door open and not cranking his hourly meter just yet. “Because I certainly value your learned opinion…”

“Yes, well, best of luck on this, Mister Herbert,” said Daniel Kalford, Esq., seemingly reading the room. “I will be curious to hear how it all works out.” CLICK.

I’d jumped off at Larkin Street, feeling I’d be little more than a casual case to Kalford anyway, cleaving deep into the Tenderloin yet again, a butchered block away from Tallian’s scribbled address for Homeward Angels. Uptown Tenderloin, Satan’s Circus gone westward ho: Back again with all the blight, destitution and despair, the ruinous joneses and oneway dead ends. More gutter trash, excrement and discharges; more sidewalk rags and refuse—garbage, wrappers and take-out containers; more crushed cans, broken bottles, spent syringes and streaming fluids along Eddy Street—only more of this dingy district was now laced with Fentanyl. Still, I was running perilously low on pre-vacation days, fearing that I could never fully clear my place out by deadline—counting down like a detonating New Year’s Eve ball, with nowhere else to go.

But look at this curious stretch come Hyde Street, beginning with that corner beige number sporting the plaster lionet cornice medallions. Thereupon a cordon of brightly distinctive two-story buildings stood shoulder to shoulder nearly over to Turk Street. Pastel coloring, in-line gridded second floor windows, the trim, rock solid structures were in curious contrast to the sprawling flat black-brown apartment building facing directly on Hyde’s eastern side. Wait, wrong street, misjotted address?

This couldn’t be right… never really noticed these streamlined jobs before; they did seem so stylistically miscast. Lentil green to powder blue to khaki to blue-gray, lavender and horseradish tan: The tidy row were of the Art Deco or Moderne school, detailed in geometric flourishes, zig-zags and swirls, with pre-cast molds of mythic icons and opposing masks of comedy and tragedy—theatrical in drama and bas relief. One building center-block featured a brass landmark plaque implanted in the sidewalk before it, under the shade of a lone straggly tree. Apparently my destination was the wane pink job sandwiched in beside it, flush with plaster silver swirl panels and bookending molded squares atop Hellanistic globes. It roughly faced across from the Tenderloin Peace Memorial, just down from another landmark plaque—honoring the storied Blackhawk Jazz Club, postwar mecca for Duke, Dizzy, Monk, Miles and Lady back in the Day.

But the 239 Hyde I’d just encountered was now graced by Homeward Angels, besieged with distressed, do-or-die clients on walkers, in wheelchairs, under blankets of cardboard and Chronicles, waiting outside its solid steel doors like Deadheads for a Warfield gig, if not Depression Era Oakie breadline after a panhandle twister. Queued up out front was an encampment of rainbowed tents, tarps and other lean-tos, blankets and dropclothes propped up with broom and mop handles for some shade. Sleeping or just lounging beneath them were a ragged yet still feisty lot, patiently waiting to speak their mind and plight before HA staffers come morning.

Strewn about them about the sidewalk were soiled bedding, caked dishes, hand tools, broken appliances, foiled junkfood, Tupper containers of yesterday’s spoils, rinsed-out clothing drying in the afternoon sun. Some wizened souls even surrounded themselves with chests and drawers full of their stashes, keepsakes and other worldlies: everything placed and misplaced in its place. Lots of boombox music and Mary Jane—they were in no hurry, weren’t going anywhere in particular. Nevertheless, compound fractured people, lives on the line: I could see it in their faces, feel it in my own.

“How? Here?” I asked, Peter Tallian answering the intercom.

“Simple, Hollywood came calling.”

“You mean with their studio fundraisers?”

“No, with their film exchanges.”

“What—like needle exchanges?”

“Ahem, not quite,” Tallian frowned, welcoming me in through Homeward Angels’ double steel doors. He went on to explain as how nearly a century ago, motion pictures were shot on volatile nitrate-based film, which required safe storage when awaiting distribution to San Francisco theaters. So major L.A. studios like MGM, Paramount, Columbia and 20thCentury Fox set up these fireproof, reinforced concrete structures with elaborate sprinkler and ventilation systems, in which to secure their precious new film reels. “I was told this very building was utilized by Majestic Studios, hence their trademark globe plasters out on its facade. That’s what prompted a little research on my part.”

“I see, same with the MGM lions and Fox sheik masks, huh? But why here in the Tenderloin, of all places,” I dusted off my plainly usual khaki and corduroy.

“This is nearest to where the Market Street movie houses were back then,” he led me to his rear floor office. “These distribution centers were like lending libraries to them all, while safeguarding finished reels from nitrate fires and explosions. Lots of cinema history in these places, all right, stretching back almost to Zoopraxiscope times. At least until the 1950s and 60s, when less explosive acetate-based film stocks arrived, and they became obsolete. Now come along.”

“History, got that right—let alone what went on next door…”

“You mean Wally World…also a little before my time here.”

Off-hours face time: Fortunately, Tallian was seeing me on a Monday, when Homeward Angels’ intake clinic was normally closed for debugging and repair. He directed me past an assembling of stiff wooden chairs that looked akin to a prayer breakfast gathering or confessional for A.A.. Unlike HA’s pink facade, its staging area was flat whitewash bright, festooned with inspirational banners, honored donor portraiture, testimonial photos of gushingly grateful clients, a small Raphaelite mural of descending angels and opposing wall solid with self-help bulletin boards and floor-to-ceiling bookcaseloads of legal volumes.

I signed into a procedural log at the unattended reception window, then followed him through a security door toward his rear office space. En route, we passed a series of matching white chambers, deep and narrow, with reinforced concrete walls thick as air-raid bunkers, ceilings webbed with red fire sprinklers, shelving stacked with legal texts and documents. Altogether, they looked like defrosted meat lockers with the cold turned down, except for their open, case-hardened iron doors.

“Film vaults,” He pointed in passing. “Where the studio stored all their movie reels. Not anymore, of course, so we use them as super-size file cabinets.”

“God, maybe Bette and Bogey were once stored in there,” I gasped at the ghostly prospect, with a reminder tug at my age-old cable knit sweater, dating back to poking around the County Kerry location set remains from ‘Ryan’s Daughter’.

“Unlikely, but just so long as it wasn’t Bette and Tallulah,” he winked, ushering me into his cubicle.

“Guess that’s what the fire sprinklers were for…”

“Clever…now why don’t you have a seat…”

A cursory pan about yielded white walls flush with fat clipboards, tacked print-outs and court calendars. Clustered desks were piled high with case logs, copies of filed motions, clasp-bound bulletins, housing regulatory circulars and myriad legal minutiae. Scarred tile flooring was stacked with box upon box of dated documents and discovery. H.A.’s bullpen fairly reeked of bare-bones jurisprudent expertise and activity—buzzing phone lines to trenchant negotiations to copy machines churning away—the righteous romance of justice sought and served. And this was on a comparatively quiet, restorative off-day. In some respects, I felt fortunate to be here under these circumstances; in others, fretful that I was here under any circumstances at all.

“This your alter office?”

“I’ve helped out here as best I can since law school.” He doffed his blue suit jacket to a companion vest and embroidered, open collar butter yellow shirt.

“Not exactly the commercial realty game though…”

“I didn’t entirely trade my social conscience for a credential, okay? Which is probably why I’ve left the corporate REIT racket to strike out on my own in the Hobart office. Here we work to get people off the streets and keep people off. It’s a good counterweight, a worthwhile effort, all in all. Because there are a lot of troubled, homeless souls out there.”

Then came the sudden thrashing and trashing out front, where the infirm and wheelchair ridden made way for a rather familiar gray hoodied woman in sweaty brown pants, pounding on Homeward Angels’ front doors. Apparently still without a phone, she desperately screamed over and over again that she needed to get inside. It was an emergency, she was starving and had nowhere else to turn. Some of the camped out clients-in-waiting soon joined in, chanting her cause with a rhythmic rapping on the barred windows and doors, as if to will the clinic’s opening—that Tuesday walk-in hours could not come soon enough. We could hear the pleas loud and clear in here, but Peter said this happened every Monday and there was nothing he could do about it short of calling 911 in extreme cases, what with trained H.A. staffers off for the day.

“Poor Cynthia out there knows the score, does this every Monday,” Tallian sighed, looking away, toward the floor. “Truth is, she won’t accept shelter or treatment for very long, and is no immediate danger to herself or others. Let’s just say she’s a work in progress.”

“Lotsa troubled folks, seems that way, that’s for sure,” I glanced back at those repurposed film vaults. “Though kind of a comedown for the place from its major studio days, wouldn’t you say?”

“Just like this scenario is for you, Mister Herbert,” he lifted a file folder from his weathered briefcase. “In any case, here’s how it’s going to go down from here on…”

“Going…down…”

“Affirmative, if you don’t address these notices properly. To review, your drop-dead date is…”

“They want me totally out by this coming Thursday. Plus I got their hard-copy offer of #2 for $1200 slipped under my door.”

“And your chances of meeting that deadline are…”

“Dunno, little to none,” I muttered, as I watched him re-read the termination notices. “I mean, there’s decades of stuff in there, and I’m barely halfway through packing it up.”

“With no alternatives, much less the financial resources to do so?”

“Sad but…true, at this moment anyway…” The less I heard of that front door commotion, the more I heard my scenario laid out so succinctly, the less I want to hear about any of it anymore. That was when my mind began drifting off, and over to Wally World. “Let’s just say the timing is brutal, knocks me totally off my game.”

Even through these double-thick concrete walls, I thought I could tune into the magic once made/created next door. The Lost Landmarks plaque had imparted that it all began with some Miles Davis sessions across at the Blackhawk. Having a hot Hollywood studio already in the can, eccentric producer/engineer Wally Heider flew up from L.A. to record a Friday night gig for Columbia, soon patching together an independent NorCal studio facility in the blue/gray 245 Hyde—a sound stage, screening room and film storage building that had been abandoned by 20th Century Fox. It was April, 1969, and the San Francisco Sound exploded out of stacked Marshall amps all over town. Hollywood’s Heider caught the wave and instantly had bands lining up with a bullet to roll tape through his custom built 24-channel Neve console gear, in a two-story suite of audio studios.

Jefferson Airplane recorded ‘Volunteers’ in there, Gracie Slick laying down her hauntingly surreal vocals in studio C, whisky and smokes in hand. Other Monterey Pop veterans such as Quicksilver and the Grateful Dead swiftly moved their grooves into studios A and D, blowing out Altec 604-ES monitors and Fender 40/80 RMS power amps. A platinum roster of rock and jazz artists proceeded to mint 10-inch reels of half-track Scotch #111 mag tape, pressing on to instant long-play glory. Jeesh, the Dead all but moved into the place when cutting ‘American Beauty’, with CSNY and CCR jockeying for booking dates themselves. So many legendary songs, riffs and jams: I could just about pick up Jerry Garcia overdubbing his steel guitar for ‘Teach Your Children’, while ‘Deja-Vu’ was mixing into the new Quad Eight console in Studio C. Then came Slow Hand sitting in with Carlos on Santana’s ‘Abraxas’ sessions—then the Pointer Sisters steppin’ in. Anything to keep from hearing what this hard charging yet socially conscious lawyer was dropping on me now.

“So the way I see it, if you don’t vacate by Thursday, they can post a Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit to your door…”

“But pay what exactly?”

“Therein lies one of your case’s curious complications,” Tallian said, making some space on his overtaxed desktop, double checking his phone. “But absent your paying up or emptying out, they’re likely follow with a 30 or 60 Day Notice to Terminate Tenancy… that’s looking on the bright side.”

“Terminate what tenancy? I…”

“Complication number two. Look, either way your housing situation is in dire jeopardy here. And you have no plan B.”

“So what are you telling me?” Not even replaying the brilliance of Herbie Hancock and Van the Man in my head could mute this white noise static reverbing ear to ear.

Wally World was long gone anyway. Although Heider had lorded over so much tracks-to-wax creativity, by the late 1970s he had decided to pull the plugs. Sure, Wally Heider Recording had engineered the monumental music of the Byrds, Pointer Sisters, James Brown, Journey, Paul Simon, Merle Haggard and Moby Grape. But by the Tubes, Hot Tuna, T.Rex and Dead Kennedys sessions, Heider wizardry had apparently run its course here on Hyde Street. And the San Francisco Sound itself was heading south…not unlike my current tenure at Delphoria.

“That you may need some legal representation about now, and Homeward Angels has decided to take your case,” Tallian pulled out several more documents from his briefcase.

“Mine? I mean, I dunno, with all the needier folks out there, why?”

“Because there is just too much of this landlord power-play business going on in San Francisco, and these termination tactics against you are too uniquely odious to go uncontested. We’ve got to draw the line, and an SRO in of all neighborhoods, Pacific Heights is a perfect place to lay it down.”

“I see, but there’s only, like, 72 hours. I…”

“Trust me, we can deal with that,” he handed me two forms. “Point is you’re not going anywhere if we can help it. Just sign on these bottom lines, Ken. We’ll take if from there…”

Analog or digital? Pro or con? Sutter Street or Hyde? Friend or faux? Stay or go? Pay or no? Beginning or end? C’mon, I really couldn’t as desperate as all those homeless scruffs, could I? So what the hell was I doing here, so deep in the Tenderloin instead of heeding white-shoe Daniel Kalford? Besides, given all the certifiable sob stories out front, why would this guy take up my sorry cause? Really, and who’s the ‘we’, who were these Angels anyway? Pro or forma, sign in or sign away, SOS or abandon ship—it was all I could do to blink at the fine legal print.

Christ, what a time for Wally World to Dead-on Ripple back through these reinforced concrete walls: ‘If you should stand then who’s to guide you? If I knew the way I would take you home’. Then again, ‘Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a dime, if you don’t lay ’em down…’ 

End of Stage One.

Care for more?

CHAPTER 19. A Russian closure
hastens a local rush of intrigue…