Chapter Eight

COVIDose:  …Seriously, face covering, physical distancing—what is with this COVID-19 virus anyway? Is it novel or the makings of one? How did it go from an endemic to a pandemic so damn quickly…JBD RETURN, NOW


“This your current address?”

“Uh, yeah…”

“Your signature?”

“It’s mine, it’s mine, already…what…”

“Got picture I.D., do you?”

That crack to Doyle Granger about the house’s earthquake resilience was no fabrication. For actually, our beloved Delphoria had survived the 1906 quake/firestorm, had come through Loma Prieta ’89 with merely a few dislodged chimney bricks and stress-cracked walls. It was a subdued Queen Anne tower house, circa 1891, with an unpretentious witch’s hatted turret upfront, plenty of chamfered gables and dormers all around. Such was Delphoria’s Victorian surface drama of geometric triangle against rectangle, projecting versus receding components, that there was no telling what mysteries it might lie within.

Light green fancy-butt shingled with creamy white and dark olive detailing, the place was a free-classic jargonaut of architectural elements: picture stick Palladian picture window casings with curvy, sandblown turret glass above. Tasty Eastlake-inspired gingerbread, continuous white cornice lines anchored the riot of triangular roof lines. Saucy green on crème ivy swag trimmed pediments, brackets and the house’s deeply vaginated portal, with its ivory on claret maroon front doors. Crowning it all was a tall top story gable, Venus shell pattern detailed in trilaterally at the roof end, swooping up toward a prominent, knobby gold-leaf shaft finial, figuratively climaxing to the heavens. Given everything, Delphoria could have been in better repair, but what was not to like about living so long in a colorful old nest like this? Looked like I was about to find out…

“My driver’s license, okay?” I rifled through my vermiculated wallet for the pink Missed Delivery form.

“It’s expired,” noted the overworked, undersupported USPS counter clerk at Steiner Station A, apparently oblivious to the haunted ground over which she toiled. I could still hear the long-gone Temple throbbing, its Peoples chanting in full throat to holy hell.

“That’s all I’ve got…”

“Sign here,” she sighed, flicking back the California license in exchange for a certified letter, blowing a bang of lavender processed hair out of her glassy eyes.

With that, I took possession of the labeled white #10 envelope, immediately spotting a return address I had familiarity with, stemming from a number of procedural exchanges. What could this be now, a rent increase notice for one of the tenants, a Three-Day Pay or Quit order for me to tack to some poor piker’s door? I had received such nasty paperwork to deliver time and again over the years—guilt inducing but part of the more toned-down than tone-deaf middleman gig—only never by so official a mailing before. Must have been yet another contentious issue with the basement flat, if not with room number four. Income property ownership in San Francisco, man, who needed it, nothing but non-stop grief and headaches. Landlord-tenant, tenant-landlord, rent control protections to binding, discretionary city review: lord knows I’d long seen it from both sides.

Either way, what good could have come from a certified letter, particularly one picked up around here? I pushed through Station A’s glass doors, out onto Geary Boulevard, far enough to gain a full overshoulder glance at the plainly governmental-modern facility, which now took up the better part of this infamous block. Yet all I could see were the grim baroque caverns once looming side-by-side, the darker, more hellish of the two being a noisome crypt of Biblical proportions. The Scottish Rite kirk cum synagogue had sat cheek by jowl, pew by pew with the spiritual essence of Temple incense that had moldered into fetid Guyana jungle heaps of the People’s remains. I shuddered at the phantasmagoria of it all, long leveled by now, glancing instead across the broad, bilevel Geary Expressway to apparitions of a more celebratory shrine, one that closed far too soon after the fall and horrors of 1978. Eye skating past glorious visions of a thoroughly melted away Winterland—of the Deadhead fare-thee-well and New Riders’ Purple Sage adieu—I wrestled with tearing open the envelope versus stuffing it into my cross-shouldered Timbuk2 messenger bag.

That was until nearly getting siderolled by a team of hulky roadies hauling amps and loudspeakers off the back of a Ryder rig through caged security gates, like so many crews had before them. They wrestled their black audio stacks up those same sanctified metal stairs that heightened opening act hopes while humbling the headliner rockristocracy. Airplane to ZZ, groups and groupies alike had to kiss Bill Graham’s ring on down upon entering the Fillmore Auditorium’s fabled stage doors, chomping apples no matter where they were hitting on the album charts. I could just picture Led Zep’s aerostat and the Rolling Stones’ mobile docked right here in the corner loading zone.

Instead, today’s smoky custom bus was black-window idling for some unsung band whose name would barely register on the buff brick Fillmore’s mainly indie marquee. So the ‘FoolAgains’ didn’t stand out at all as I scanned the auditorium’s flashing roster of upcoming show for groups I’d never much heard of, like Ozomotley and the Rabid Wombats. But that was on me. This, from over here across Fillmore Street, panning toward John Lee Hooker’s ebony Boom-Boom Room cater-corner to my right. I finally dithered open that envelope at the MUNI stop, while waiting for a north-bound 22 trolley—home to a taste of vino, some speedo readeo, a little All Things NPR—likely as not just padding and piddling around the house.

Leaning against a ‘Three Shades of Blue’ glass paneled bus shelter’s support, I unfolded the one-page notice, which instantly began flapping in the Geary corridor wind blowing more vestigial ashen air and who knew what airborne pathogens due east. Okay, same ol’, same ol’—all in a day’s work—seemed I’d served scads of these things over time, particularly since, since… Well, as it happened, Marvin Rosener was never a particularly healthy man, and the store attack on him back in ’78 hardly mitigated his prognosis. Inherently good hearted though he was, the source of his ailments was congenital coronary weakness. He often lamented that his father had suffered a fatal thrombosis before 50; he himself had undergone quadruple bypass surgery deep into his sixties. Surgeons had given him a five-to-ten year horizon after lengthy recuperation from his massive heart attack, which was triggered while toasting a long-sought legal triumph at Perry’s saloon. He managed well more than that by mainly holistic convalescing up in his Marin County aerie, before falling victim to a series of crippling strokes.

“You hook me up?” asked a gruff, gray Western Addition local in passing, bundled three rag layers thick, worldlies-stuffed shopping cart scraping and wobbling behind.

“Me? No way,” I muttered, looking down and away, like a sore-kneed marathon runner from a wheelchaired amputee.

“You ain’t woke?” The street sleeper coughed, dragging further along the Geary overpass.“All come ’round, bro—all come ’round…”

“Sorry,” I glanced back down Fillmore Street, combing the rebirthing jazz district for long, lost 22 MUNI. “Just waiting for a bus…”

“You have a blessed day…” And off he rolled.

In any case, during his surgery and recovery period, Marvin Rosener had essentially entrusted me with uber housesitting Delphoria back in the day, collecting rents and generally keeping the lid on the place for him, which I did faithfully for years on end. But along the way, he had also picked up a partner—either by way of the SOMA hothouse baths or leather bars. Slowly, steadily they had eventually reached some sort of oral and/or anal accommodation—outing via concerts, theatre, lengthy tropical cruises on Rosener’s wallet, to where Foster Norguard had firmly installed himself on the hubby/daddy side of the equation. A big, cultivated bruiser by way of Orange County, he rode herd over the waning landlord lock and stock, increasingly overseeing his store affairs and properties citywide. But as to the letter…

Lessee here, Notice of Termination. Dear Mr. Herbert: You held a position of manager at the property since January 1980. In exchange for your services, you have been provided with the use of unit number one without payment of any rent…

When Marvin finally passed away, his will decreed that Norguard be executor over his irrevocable trust—something like that. But where Marvin was so constitutionally laid-back and laissez-faire in his later years, Foster swooped in with a Hunnish blitzkrieg of consolidation. He swiftly sold Vanro Market, canning the loyal assistant manager who’d been keeping it afloat since Rosener’s heart attack. Norguard then digitized all Marvin’s twentysome other fogtown holdings with blunt edged oversight, fashioning himself as a virtuoso real estate mogul. He soaked and tormented any tenant who steered or strayed, however slightly, over the bright white lines of their exhaustive multi-page leases, cranking up his legal afterburners as The City’s rental market barreled along. But in the case of Delphoria, he inherited a uniquely San Francisco thicket of bollards and speed bumps, and I had long been standing smack between the double yellows withskeleton-closeted red flags and hazard flares in hand. At least until now…

…This notice of termination is hereby given to Kenneth Herbert, that your employment is hereby ended for cause, given that Mister Foster Norguard has engaged a formal property management company. Your employment is terminated pursuant to the at-will laws of California, effective immediately in compliance with Labor Code Section 2808…

…Please undersign this notice in acknowledgement that you understand the reasons for your termination from the management position. Note that this acknowledgement does not mean that you Kenneth Herbert agree with the reason for termination, but rather that you understand the good cause reason for the termination…

Wait…what! Termi-nation notice from what?  Employment? What good cause? What did I do? Where the hell was this coming from? Suddenly the letter was burning a hole in my household safety net. I would have torched it right then and there if it weren’t now turning so soggy in the sweating palms of my hands. Waiting riders milled around me as the 22 Fillmore bus wheeled up, queuing to board, front and rear, but I stood frozen against the poetically dedicated blue safety glass overpass shield, staring us through the shelter’s grilled plastic canopy, struggling to decipher what this actually meant. The only thing I could figure first off was that either this was a notice misdirected toward me somehow—right, that this was meant for another property, maybe even another nescient client—simple typo, email chain snafu. Sure, could be a technicality of sorts, having to do with taxes or the intricacies of Marvin Rosener’s Trust. Or else my sweetheart deal was going hard cheese and heartburn from there on.

As the MUNI 22 trolley whirred northward, I couldn’t regret having missed the connection, since I had no certainty it was homeward bound anymore anyway. But hey, this might have no bearing on my actual habitat, only on a gig I frankly had done without in a pinch way back then. Separate, compartmentalize, decouple; house and home: what’s one got to do with the other? Just take it one shoe at a time: if there be any more to drop at all. Yet dizzy, disoriented, I felt increasingly unmoored in the stiffening afternoon winds, getting nearly blown away be a 38 Geary crammed with outbound Asians and Russians.

The articulated local was headed for their respective Richmond District avenues, roaring by a rumple-suited guy hobbling toward the bus stop with his old lady in tow. Finally hitting panic mode, I crammed the letter into my UnTucked plaid shirt pocket and turned away from the gales, glancing over the railing at the thrumming Geary Expressway underpass, downtown skyline in the distance.

There I counted cars and motor coaches echoing to the pounding of my aorta and ventricles, the ratcheting visegrip on my cranium. I squeezed hard on the steel railing, fighting back urges to join them with a one-on-one windshield face-off. All I could hear over the roar of soundwall amplified traffic, under furious whereto/wherenow voices in my brainpan, were FoolAgains’ rocky Fillmore rehearsals in one ear, Boom-Boom Room’s open-mic blues riffs in the other—with ghostly Peoples Temple dirges besetting me in between. Nevertheless I was homeward bound, at the very least notionally so. The soundwall-driven writing couldn’t be much clearer than that…

  Care for More?

CHAPTER NINE. Legal concerns
take precedence, one over the other, 
which means taking it downtown in earnest…