Haight Street – Chapter One
It couldn’t have been more different for Marlee Owens. There had always been someone to turn to. There had always been Phillip. He was the kind of man who could hold her hand and go for a quiet walk on a busy street. Now she had to rely on herself.
Now Phillip was dead.
Aside from her music, her world revolved around him. Then one night, walking back to their car after a Wednesday “date night” movie, a sixteen year-old addict stepped out of the shadows, decided that Phillip had “looked at me funny” and put four inches of tempered steel into Phillip’s left ventricle. He might as well have put the knife into Marlee’s heart as well.
Her parents and friends tried to comfort and help her, but they had no real idea of what to do. If it had been a divorce they could have managed something, but how do you comfort a woman who has had her husband butchered before her eyes? What do you say to a young widow who had so much blood on her that night that the paramedics thought that she had also been stabbed?
Marlee was drowning in Cleveland. There was nothing she could do. There was no one she could grab and shake to make it all stop – to turn back the clock. It was the incessant stream of reminders and – “The Look.” The Look – that everyone who knew the story sent her way. It was a mixture of pity, sadness and, “Thank God it wasn’t me.”
Marlee gave it almost two years, but the weight of it all was pulling her under. She surrendered her chair as a cellist with the Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. There was no one to play for any longer. She had to get away if she wanted to survive.
Her decision was to go as far away as possible. She told her family that she was going to try to start over in California – in San Francisco, because she didn’t know anyone there. They cried, but understood.
There wasn’t much to pack into the SUV. Except for her cello, some music and a few boxes of books, there wasn’t anything she wanted to keep from Cleveland – certainly nothing from her and Phillip’s apartment. She avoided everything that held “sentimental value.” Things could be replaced because they were, after all, just that – things.
There are always apartments available in The Haight. It is a transient neighborhood in a transient town. People came and went like the fog. All it takes is a leisurely walk down the street with a pen and that morning’s newspaper. Marlee had her name on a lease by lunchtime.
It needed new paint on the walls, but it did have a sunny bay window. Her new apartment at 1298 Haight Street, number 6 was a small one bedroom with limited closet space. So far, there were few things that needed much room.
Marlee stood in the middle of her new apartment, mentally deciding where a sofa should go and how she could arrange the space in the bay window so she could practice her cello in the sunlight.
Notes would have to be made – sizes, colors and textures. This apartment needed texture. Bits and pieces brought together to make a whole.
As she crossed the room, looking for the straw bag that she carried everywhere, to jot down a quick shopping list. She noticed that the front door was wide open and a tall blonde man wearing checkered oven mitts was standing there, looking in at her.
“Knock, knock. Anybody home?”
He had a smile that created two shallow dimples. There was a boyish twinkle in his eyes, but this was definitely a man.
“Oh, Hi there,” said Marlee, a bit taken aback. “I must have left the door open when I came in.”
“The locks are a bit tricky,” he said. “The deadbolts are more secure. Look, I don’t mean to seem pushy, but I have something for you.”
“Let me go get it. I’ll be right back.” He turned and ran up the stairs. Marlee stood there, her mouth open, wondering who and what this was all about.
She heard a door slam, and a few seconds later the dimpled man in oven mitts reappeared carrying a steaming casserole dish. Sandy hair tumbled into his eyes. He peeked between the curls.
“I’ve made you a tuna noodle. I’m sort of the unofficial ‘Welcome Wagon’ for the building.”
“How sweet,” she said. “Please, come in. I guess you are my first house guest. My name is Marlee Owens.”
“Oh, how gauche of me,” he said. “Here I am barging into your apartment and I haven’t even introduced myself. You just can’t take me anywhere. I’m Dennis – Dennis Thayer, number 8, upstairs, right above you.”
“Welcome Dennis Thayer, number 8. Why don’t you put that in the kitchen, on the stovetop, I guess. I don’t even have a table yet. Oh, my – or any dishes or utensils or flatware.”
“No problemo. Be right back.” He set down the hot dish and ran back out of the front door once again.
Marlee made a quick inspection of the hot, bubbly casserole. It looked substantial and delicious. She hadn’t eaten today.
Another slam from upstairs and Dennis Thayer popped back through her door holding two plates, flatware and napkins. A red and white checkered tablecloth was draped over his left arm. Two glasses dangled from his fingers and a wine bottle was tucked under his arm. A wider smile deepened his dimples.
“I think its white wine with tuna noodle?”
Marlee took the plates and utensils from his hands and headed into the kitchen. They filled their plates and adjourned to the still sunny space by the Bay window.
In the early evening, with the sun dropping off the edge into the Pacific Ocean, a golden light washed over The Haight. It gave everyone out on the street a healthy “only in California” patina. It looked like Shangri-la.
The warmth and the unreal light made Marlee feel – awakening and alive. It was her first addictive taste of California.
“These are the best seats in the house. You must know somebody,” her guest teased.
“I know the chef.”
“I hear that he’s wonderful – and cute too.”
They bantered back and forth as they ate and enjoyed the Napa Valley ‘Table White’ wine.
Dennis Thayer sipped at his glass, nursing it for almost an hour. Over the casserole Marlee learned a little more about this genial stranger who lived up the stairs.
“I work for a housecleaning service – ‘Manly Maids.’ It’s a job, hardly a career. What about you?” he asked.
“I’m a classical musician. I play the cello. I’m in between jobs right now, but I do have an audition coming up soon – I hope.”
“Aren’t we all between jobs, really? I fancy myself a Photographer. More wine, Marlee? May I call you Marlee?”
“Of course, Dennis. We are neighbors, you know. I want to thank you for making me feel welcome. My first real day in San Francisco and I get a home cooked meal. Is everyone so friendly here?”
“Not by a long shot, sister. Under the icing on this cake is a dirty spoon. So, pick your way carefully. This is a tough and dangerous city and The Haight is one of its toughest neighborhoods.”
“Really? What about all that, ‘Peace, Love and Patchouli’?”
“Honey, that’s all flummery. Always has been. The tourists come here looking for ‘The Summer of Love’ and end up with some junkie poking a knife in their bellies.”
This was the first dark cloud on Marlee’s sunny view of her new hometown.
“The whole ‘hippie’ thing is really just a kind of nostalgia for things that never were.”
He saw that the smile had disappeared from her face and that her eyes were lazily focused on the last rays of light still hiding from the Pacific horizon.
“Oh, now look what I’ve done. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bum you out. It’s not as bad as I paint it, really. I’m just a cynic. You’ll love it here.
“Tomorrow you get out of this apartment and explore the neighborhood. Waste some money on trinkets and beads. Get a tattoo. Just remember, not all the people in The Haight are as nice as me. If they were you’d be up to your hips in tuna noodle casserole.”
As the sun set Marlee flipped on the overhead lights. With nothing on the windows yet she felt like they were on display, exposed.
“Dennis, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome here. It’s been fun, but I have had a long day and I think that I need to just collapse and get some sleep.”
“Of course. I’ve talked your ears off and fed you like a fatted calf.” He started gathering up the dishes. She moved to help him, but he protested.
“I’m the ‘Manly Maid’ here. Let me do this. I’m a professional. You want to help? Here – go put the wine away in your fridge for another day. Go, play wine stewardess while I bus this station.”
“Dennis, you are a real gem. As soon as I get set up I’ll have you down for brunch. I insist.”
“Fabulous, Miss Marlee! You just rap on the ceiling when the eggs are ready.”
“It may be a couple of weeks or so. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to make this place a home.”
Marlee took the wine into the kitchen. She had had a thoroughly delightful time with her new neighbor. The wine bottle would be the first thing in her new, ancient, fridge.
In the other room, Dennis scooped up everything in his tablecloth, one big bundle to be sorted out later. As he headed toward the door he walked past the cardboard boxes filled with some of Marlee’s books, waiting to be unpacked. He smiled as he picked up her slim paperback copy of “Leaves of Grass” and slipped it silently into his shirt.