COVIDose: …But hey, I get it—call to action, do my part, join the pandemic fight—defeat the evil Crown wherever it may reign. Public health, social cohesion: It’s not about me and my disruptions, it’s about everybody’s life and death. Onwards, San Francisco through the lockdown—cooperation and collaboration and all that. Fortunately we have found a way to soldier on despite it all…REJOIN, go NOW…
“I’s seein’ you, blood…”
“Uh-huh—have a great one, okay?”
“Great one? Look what how you did me!”
Determined to rootle back downtown, I was stuck tramping along Market Street with a late-morning cattle rush clogging the cavernous, spindly shaded pedway, up and down the block. In the process, I stumbled onto him…
Here was a tall, hulking lout in layered rags, spit and spittle through a broken brown grill. Calvin bulldozed along with twin full black Glad utility bags over each side of a battered Safeway shopping cart, wide as a dredging scow down the broad red brick sidewalk. He’d just steamed between a festooned Parisian style kiosk and several sun-starved acacia trees, slamming to a can-rattling halt directly in my path. Now this craziac starts lighting me up…just about kneecapping me right then and there. I quickly grasped that he had targeted me amid a busy biflow of main drag foot traffic, and was slowly getting a handle on why.
“Did to you? Me,” not knowing how bad off he was, or what he was on. “What did I do? ”
“You goddamn know what you did, shithook!”
Running hot and tattered as this guy was now, I could repicture Calvin Roe as the grinning, phonepole flyer plastered handyman whose plumbing misadventures had nearly flooded Delphoria’s ground floor flat. He came cheap and scrounged aftermarket parts, having no problemo working off he books on jobs that skirted proper building permits—which landlord, Marvin Rosener had found priced just about right back then.
Still, this one-time unlicensed contractor’s long crack breaks fuzzed up his judgment and taskicity, to where he was no match for our leaking water heater, much less a clued-in city code inspector whom I’d inadvertently tipped off, who threatened to come down hard. But Marvin had methodically greased some palms—and the last I’d heard, Calvin had fled from his debts and immediate family to the Sawtooth wilds of Idaho. Yet here he was back before me again, likely just another drifting ember from the northern fires, much the worse for wear, rotted tobacco teeth and all.
“Oh, r-r-right,” I recalled sorely, though not wanting to dig this hole any deeper about now. But I didn’t dime him out, no matter what he says. “Hey, c’mon, moving on—fist bump, bro?”
“Yah, fist your fuckin’ face! You dimed me out there, mudderfuggin’ ruined my life…”
“Wouldn’t be the first…” More or less an occupational hazard: So instead I dropped a crumpled George on him, and beat my sorry retreat between a hirsute bikinied woman dragging her personal belongings, and a hefty naked guy wrapped and twirling in his heavily soiled blankie like Jeff Epstein around a ‘Little Island’ massage table.
“…Yo, that coffee there for anybody?!”
“Sorry, Calvin, sort of…” I ducked over into a landmark portal, between its stone granite voluted balusters, under scrolled console moldings and a corbel balconette, through ornately baroque doors. The Hobart Building, Willis Polk’s 1914 classical revival masterwork, was reputedly thrown together in a mere eleven months—on an asymmetric polygonal site at the foot of Second Street. Yet fittingly, its 21-story sculpted terra cotta tower was The City’s second tallest at the time. Although now engulfed from all sides, Hobart was still standing historically tall. So with all due respect, I moved on, ducking like an oil-slick mallard inside…
“They’re just out there…”
“You don’t understand, I…”
“…For the taking…”
“No, not like this…”
“Just floating in the aether, I’m telling you, everywhere, like carbon particulates.”
I had taken Alison Paige-Warner up on the coffee. Or rather, I took it up to her—Sulewasi-wise—from a Peet’s franchise over there across Market Street. The former Nazi family-owned chain roaster tucked inside a row of International Style edifices, flags flying above it like those down at U.N. Plaza, as vintage torpedo streetcars rumbled by. I’d dodged opposing trolleys back across the slot, soy skinny grandes in hand, slipping in here past a Powerball scratching desk attendant. under a Conical crystal chandelier, gleaming handcrafted brass and Italian marble foyer: Hobart’s lobby was imposing as all get out, which was exactly what the doorman/guard wanted me to do. Instead, I squeezed into the right of two brassy elevators, just past its closing filagree detailed doors.
“Only not with this much detail, not going down this way.”
“Ideas are just that way,” replied Alison. “So what do you want from me?”
“I dunno, some justice maybe—look into it or something…”
“Look into what?”
“You know, my situation with this,” I said, yanking loose the coffee cups from a corrugated take-out tray. “Doing what you lawyers do…”
The fourteenth floor stop yielded a lengthy corridor of varnished walnut door casings, thickly tufted runners and polished marble walls. Each matching walnut office door framed pebbly glass and gold leaf lettering—strictly Spade & Archer era—all except for the glass window panel of this 1429.
“Which is what…I mean, in your mind?”
“I dunno, maybe right a wrong. It was my work, after all, the bastard stole my work. Even saw him on a PBS interview, admitting that was how he got his best material.” I then pulled a manila folder from a rode-worn messenger bag. “Here, I’ve got a file on it, and everything. Copies of signed correspondence, voicemail tape, the whole works.”
Paige-Warner’s no-name office was largely a cubby hole halfway down the corridor on the left. A pair of narrow windows looked out upon, if not abutting the plainly vertical former Wells Fargo hi-rise at 44 Montgomery. What may have been considered architecturally progressive in the mid-Sixties—Mies, et al.—was comparatively nondescript, and merely shadowing her daylight by now. What I could make out, however, were several classroom style steel case desks, topped with Dell tower computers, routers, H-P laser printers, a flatbed scanner, landline telephones, charger cables, bursting in/out banker boxes and teetering stacks of documents and depositions. The volumal beginnings of a United States Reports and California Code library extended across a row of four drawer hard-copy file cabinets, old bookmarked law school texts filled out whatever space remained up there. Stained coffee cups, a microwave of sandwich wrappers, empty little bottles of energy drinks: in all, it was difficult to tell whether this was an office on the come or provisionally to-go. But it was all I had on my docket at the time.
“Firstly I must advise you I.P. is not my area of expertise,” she said, stirring her Sulewasi over the hum of a rotating floor fan.
“Then what is, if I may be so bold as to ask?” I shook in two packets of brown sugar, one stir-stick short, sloshing my Peet’s like a tumbler of Milk of Magnesia—failing to splashguard my gray wide-wale cord sport coat and chinos, best I could muster on short notice.
“I’m leaning more toward corporate governance,” she replied, handling the folder like a loaded curbside doggie bag. “Best practices, like that…”
“You mean more where the money is,” I noted the wall of framed diplomas over her shoulder: USF, Boalt Hall Juris Doctor sheepskins, citations from Cal, San Francisco Bar Association members in good stead. “Not penny-ante stuff like…”
“Not in so many words—but, frankly, I’m going on 30, still negotiating law school loans,” she said, sculpted cheekbones, slim wireframe readers tipping her tanned retrousse nose—blowing, sipping advisedly on her Peet’s sleeved cup. “I’ve had enough with mock trials and internships, believe me.”
“Saturnough said,” I nodded. “Then this office here is just a strategic way station?”
“So to speak—as they say, location, location, location…” She reached to pull her long, wavy blond tail away from a high-roll collar. Her look was layered black and purple, somewhere between Eileen Fisher and DKNY—workaday to be sure, though with an after-hours mien.
“Then I guess my case would be slumming, an annoying little flare-up along your yellow brick road…”
Didn’t actually intend to take this low road, immediately regretting the imagery, but I was afraid I had no way, nowhere else to turn. Yellow Page ads had yielded a series of snippy receptionists and unanswered voicemails; referral services held out little hope, Lawyers for the Arts were far more interested in issues pressingly visual and other finery than the provenance of words on a page. Nobody was interested in a local geezer hack’s conspiracy trip over some high-roller author filching his Great American manuscript; but I still couldn’t let it ride. So here I was, playing the flaming guilt card on her for a little pro bono redress. Pretty awkward, all right—not exactly my area of expertise. Yet she had opened the door for coffee…and what on earth did I have to lose?
“What…case?” she sighed, wincing at the flare-up metaphor. “Okay look, I will review your file, but it may take several days to get to it.”
“See, I’m still getting situated here,” she said, defensively fingering through the folder. “My colleague is being kind enough to give me a bit of space and latitude to sort of set up shop…”
“Great for you. So what does he do?”
“Peter’s practice is in the area of real estate, REITs, some probate—like that. But he’s done with the cut-throat, white-shoe grind, is striking out on his own. In fact, he’s in litigation right now.”
Striking out: I knew that tune. How this damned whole novel enterprise had been disillusionment and doom from the head-slapping inception. How the rash noodling and doodling had led me down this brambly, if not neurotoxic path. How the clashing voices, the narrative-dialogue shitstorm pinballed relentlessly around my skull with bumpers and circuits in fitful overload. How relationships, resources and telomeres diminished as the pages piled up—living on ketchup, chicken ramen and Cheerios. How the bipolar rush and crash, weeklong keyboard jags and all-night scribbling raked in nothing but…the above. Nevertheless, it was all I could do to stifle the personal vexation awhile and make a connection to spark some sort of course correction.
“So, uh, how’re you doing otherwise,” I straightened up, square cornered a mound of transcripts and legal journals near the corner of her desk.
“Thank you for asking,” she said curtly, setting the file folder aside. “But you clearly have no agency in that respect…”
“Hey, gotcha,” I said, in collateral saturnine retreat. “Don’t go there, right?”
“Ask me in a couple of days…” She propped her sleek black Jimmy Choos up on a overstuffed lower desk drawer.
“Sounds like a plan,” I grinned, grabbing my coffee and making for her door. “Meantime, I’ll just fiddle and chill around the house…”
“I see, another troglodyte with nothing better to do. Just don’t go burning yourself in the process.”
“No reason to worry, counselor, rest assured I’m not that kind of guy anymore.”
“Where have I heard that before…”
Care for More?
CHAPTER EIGHT. A dead-on letter
arrives for the asking, even if it
means all but signing a life away…