“Haven’t a clue…”
“She left me no forwarding info or anything, that much is for sure. So I guess she’s still here, tenant-wise.”
“With me neither…all I know is she was always, like, workin’ it somehow.”
“Workin’ it?” Couldn’t have been the same one, I thought…like with that corpse in Moulton alley. But sure, those sweet, stringy ones all looked alike from that angle…
The Union Square flameout was way beyond unspeakable. But I’d since grown rather more obsessed with the Moulton Street scenario. Always workin’ it? No clue? Meaning Jennifer hadn’t liked or befriended her cozy neighbor on Facebook? Hadn’t followed nor retweeted nor played hashtag with our resident refugee on Twitter? Never clicked Tomarrah on Flicker, Snapped her on Chat, filtered and storied her on Instagram? Hadn’t encrypted or trolled her via TikTok or Telegram? Curious how Jenn wasn’t staying networked with her neighborly BFF on who knew whose tracking apps. What was sapp with that?
“You know, dodgy, playin’ it out, one way or another.,” she slid past me out the common kitchen doorway toward her half ajar door. “Oh, did you see them ?”
“The real estate slimos who came by earlier, roaming up and down the halls.”
“Real Estate? In here,” I asked, more strange happenings to process. “Never heard a word about it…”
“Well, somebody sent them, ’cause here they were, nosing around, taking phone notes like madmen,” she said, smart cookie, no nonsense, having worked her way out here from South Boston, by way of a short stint in Near North Chicago. “I could see them through my peephole.”
Ah, yes, peepholes—had to sneak a peek through those peepholes, lock those double dead-bolted doors—so far removed from out open-doors policy of yore. “Jotting slimeballs, huh ?”
“Suits, phone pix, the whole deal.”
“Yeah, well thanks for the heads-up, I’ll…”
“Don’t mention it,” Jennifer kicked at her room door with a nod of the henna red head, Tupperware bowl of leftover kale couscous in hand, leftover Carnitas in the oven, gesturing down the hall. “Just get that one to stop with her bullshit down there…”
“R-r-right, workin’ on it…” Tumult all over again behind door number four.
Hmph, could have been anybody, insurance adjusters, city hall HHS types, anybody, right? I wouldn’t put anything past Foster Norguard that way. Still, you’d think they would have given me some advance notice or…BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP…With that, the reheating oven set off two smoke detectors nearest the house’s common kitchen, which prompted me to grab a three-step utility ladder and reach up to reset their batteries and pot them down before city SRO inspectors came poking around.
Folding away the ladder, I followed upon Jennifer’s nod down the hall, reflecting on the floor’s uneasy calm, however untenable it may have been at the moment. Still, this was more default mode these days than a DMZ compared to the way it used to be back in the day—that is, with the occasional exception of room number 4. Hell, make that decades ago—as far back as Nigel and Hildy’s Aussie-Anglo bickering up and down the very same hall. Strange happenings, all right: Then again, so many weird things had gone on in this crazy old house, from the first day I wandered in through its scrollworked double oak doors, let alone what happened before that…
Smoke alarms snuffed, I surveyed the cramped, Tupper- and cookware crammed kitchen. Through some lingering steam, the ripening odor of containered garbage and compost, I wondered how any peace was kept in there at all. Turning away to nitpick the carpet runner, I heard a long lost Dead bolt from the past out of room number three: Jenn had dropped a digital needle on ‘Scarlet Begonias’. From the Mars Hotel, might as well have been from the Saturn Hotel.
Instead, they dubbed the house ‘Delphoria’ ages ago—something about Apollo oracles and a white crystalline substance used to relieve rheumatism and neuralgia. They being those at the many Dead family gatherings in the flat downstairs. A return trip to my unit up front summoned flashbacks to my earliest days here, Deborah hosting her steely Uncle John and Jerry acoustic jams in a haze of locoweed and Casey Jones lines, buckets of Lagunitas craft brew and psilocy mushroom stew. Stirring the sticky incestuous intrigues of Bobby, the Godchaux and roving Muldaurs, slipping in a Mickey with a drumroll now and then—blowing the roofs off of surrounding highrises. Heady Hashbury skulduggery right here in a rosette corniced, lacy wainscotted Victorian parlor amid this stuffy old money San Francisco neighborhood. No, not celluloid ‘Pacific Heights’, the real Pacific Heights.
I was party to their variously crooning: ‘Stella Blue’ through the hardwood floorboards, harmonizing on ‘Ripple’ and ‘Candy Man’, pickin’ & grinnin’ through ‘Sugar Magnolia’ and ‘Friend of the Devil’, trippin’ over ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Fire on the Mountain’, toking on ‘High Time’ and ‘Morning Dew’, finally boogieing out onto the New Speedway come daybreak—truckin’ back up to money-money/woodsy Marin and their folksy brokedown palaces for another Sunshine Daydream.
God’s honest, those were a ramblin’ rosy flatful of kicked-back hoedowns, lusty showdowns and occasional overloaded throwdowns back then. T’was a randy Colorado cowgirl from Front Range pioneer family money, and her newborn Grateful family connections, pulling it off. More specifically, it took her father’s on-the-money rent checks to feed the beats and beasts—clockwork across the time zones, month after month without fail. Cashing those bank drafts was the landlord, Marvin Rosener—he of the Vanro Market, that Chestnut Street ‘bodega’, scene of the strong-armed robbery, which nearly took his life back there in 1978. That was where I came in, amid a mind fog over Sydney Mendel’s maddening meanderings, to shape up and basically tourniquet his knife wound with my shirt sleeve until the paramedics arrived.
The grocer was eternally grateful, before long fixing me up in a low-rent room here in one of his buildings. Apparently his earlier proceeds from the 24/7 Vanro went toward leveraging a portfolio of investment properties all over low six-figure 1960s San Francisco—primarily throughout Upper Terrace and the Castro. This outlier of his just happened to be in loftier Pacific Heights. Deborah held down the anchor three-bedroom unit in the house by her lonesome, and Rosener was frightful of losing her daddy’s steady checks in the face of pyramided monthly mortgage calls. So when his then building manager was suddenly ousted from the house, tensions arose within hours. Seemed Nigel Cox was shoveling snow on the side, out of his host Australian Consulate, and the Feds had been sniffing around.
“Come to think of it, I do know there was that creep looking for Tomarrah,” said Jennifer, onesie jammies and hairbun atop, Ugg-slipping back into the kitchen for her reheated Mex. She had a work-out sensibility about her, along with a back east Roxbury bite—so different from many of the tenants who had burrowed in up here.
“What creep,” I spun 180, picking up that her downloaded sound track had amped up from the vintage Dead and gone download Shakira.
“The hairy ape up from L.A.,” she kicked her number three door open further, crock and iPhone in hand. “The one who tried to keep her locked away in southern Italy. Like a sex slave in a palacio, real porny stuff…but she finally snuck away.”
“She told you that? I knew she was running from something. But all she ever told me was to keep her hereabouts on the down low, and not let anybody in asking for her. So I did, no questions asked…”
“Well, the dude hit me up for dirt out on the sidewalk one time, flashed me an Instagram of them, asked if I’d seen her—a total fat-ass dirtbag in, like, a Speedo. So I blew him off, and he just said, see you around,” Jenn added, with a ‘Man I’ll Never Be’ Boston ringtone and slam of her door.
“When was this? Ever see him again…” I asked, far too late, resolving to leave her be. By now, I’d learned to keep my eyes and hands to myself around here, defensive posture long deployed.
So hitting rewind once again, I could clearly recall opening the front door for a pair of well-dressed and determined visitors back in the early days, pointing them upstairs toward Nigel’s place. A short while later, they emerged from his unit without saying a word, good-time Nigel standing outside his doorway, waving them off, white as a Colombian line. The Justice Department agents had given him mere days to leave the U.S. or they’d nail his kangaroo carcass to the loo. He and Hildy then squabbled up and down the third floor hall, slamming doors, wearing out the carpet runner between rooms one and four, until splitting for good to their respective corners of the Empire: London to Adelaide.
That left the house short one manager and Deborah screaming at Rosener that repairs to her flat, some admittedly resulting from her many Dead Headed affairs, were way too undermet and overdue. There were boot spurred rumblings of her moseying on, taking daddy’s checks with her, unless he refilled the managerial void. In a panic, the landlord rummaged for an in-house solution, and there I was, handy and trusty in room number two, hankering to save the day. Our deal was sealed with was a less than zero rent level and move into the brighter, roomier unit number one—been in here ever since. But the same could not be said for dear Deborah downstairs. A year or two on, that groupie and her goodies were gone with the Easy Wind.
Straight off, the arrangement gave me a good, long stretch of breathing and sharp elbow room, a live-in bouillabaisse of hearts and daggers, ultimately a homey buffer between me and the harsher realities of Bay Area living. In all, a good B.O.O. (base of operations) for a low-rent Renaissance man. Just so long as I’d been able to wire some electrical, hang and mud a little wallboard, clear me some drainpipes or tighten a few screws. But mostly just keep the lid on the house and everybody out of trouble—looking after the tenants rights-wise, and maintaining an impenetrable firewall between them and a distrait, sequestered Marvin Rosener.
“What’s that,” I asked.
“Another shaker,” said Doyle Granger, descending from the top floor, one unsteady stairstep at a time. He was the only tenant who had been here longer than me, for a dirt
cheap monthly rate at that—San Francisco rent control in full force.
“Barely, maybe…why so jumpy?”
“Earthquake weather, just when that damned fire smoke finally cleared away.
Gonna bring this whole mothership down on us one of these times…”
“That only comes in the fall. Besides, hasn’t collapsed yet has it?” I scooped up some carpet lint, squared away a small hall mail table. “The old place has made it through every temblor so far, 1906 included. It’s built on a granite rise, Delphoria’s not going anywhere.”
“Yah, well, something’s in the air, all right,” he straightened a white linen cabana shirt, tugged down the brim of a feathered Panama hat he’d scored in Key West, presently on his way down to the lobby. “Something real skeevy’s goin’ down…can feel it in my aching bones.”
“It’s the micro particulates, Doyle…they’re still in the air, everywhere.”
“That, too…, stressin’ me out. I’m headin’ for Blue Bottle, what say you?”
“Me? At the moment, I haven’t a clue…”
Care for more (to come)?