Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2018

Archive for the category “California”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Six

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

“Oh, my dear, Sweet Marlee, you see, drugs again? It’s a plague. My deepest sympathies. San Francisco will be good for what ails you. It’s a place for new beginnings.”

“Is that what it’s been for you, Dennis?”

“It really has. I was born and raised near Boston, West Peabody, actually. Mother, Father, 2.3 children and a dog named Tippy. Eventually I got a degree in chemistry from Harvard and joined the corporate army.”

“You’re a Harvard grad and you’re working as a ‘Manly Maid’?”

“Well, yes. I was never very good in a lab coat with a logo on it. When I saw something wrong, I tried to fix it and the bosses, the empty suits in the corner offices, didn’t like that. They said that I wasn’t a ‘Team Player’ and that I didn’t see the ‘Big Picture’.  After a few years of that the American Dream and I parted ways. I came west and they can go to hell. Is there any more champagne?”

“No, I’m sorry. That’s it.”

“What about the rest of the wine I brought with the Tuna Noodle?”

“I drank it.”

“Well, damn it, Marlee. When you have guests over you have to have enough wine.”

“I’m sorry, Dennis. I thought the one bottle would be enough.”

“But it’s not enough, is it?” He turned his empty glass upside down.

Marlee felt the beginnings of a knot in her stomach.

“How am I supposed to get through this damned Sunday, Girl? You have no more champagne. I just have some cooking saki and I don’t get paid until Wednesday.” He pointed his index finger at her. “This is all your fault, Marlee.” She was beginning to be afraid that he was going to – she didn’t know what.

“Dennis, I want you to leave.”

“Leave? you want me to leave? Leave?” He swung his arm across the table and sweeping his plate and empty glass off the table. They hit the floor and smashed. He looked at her, unblinking.

She jumped when the dishes shattered, but she looked him straight in the eye and after a second saw his anger crumble, replaced with a trembling, childlike remorse. Tears began to well to overflowing in his eyes.

“Oh, Miss Marlee. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Don’t throw me out.” His hands reached out across the table to her in pleading. “I’m so sorry.”

She looked at him – this puzzling mix of Man and Boy.

“Dennis, did you take anything – medication – before you came down here this morning?”

His eyes flashed with anger again.

“Drugs? You think I’m on drugs? I hate drugs.”

“No, not drugs, Dennis, but medicine, maybe, from your doctor?” The fire in his eyes banked.

“Medicine? Of course I take medicine. It’s for my back. I stoop and bend a lot doing the housecleaning. That’s hard on the back.”

“Did you take any medicine this morning?”

“Yes, I took my pain medication, like every morning and every night. My back is so bad I can’t sleep at night without it. It hurts all the time.”

“OK, Dennis, I understand. It’s the pain medication and the champagne. They don’t mix very well and it’s making you…nervous.”

“Do you still want me to go home?” He was like a boy again.

“It’s not that. I just think that you need to get some rest until the champagne wears off.”

“I said I was sorry. I’ll get you another plate. Just don’t be mad at me. Don’t hate me.”

“I don’t hate you. I like you, Dennis, but right now I need you to be somewhere else. Won’t you help me by doing that?”

“For you, anything.”

Marlee helped Dennis to his feet and, with his arm draped over her shoulder they started slowly toward the door.

“I love you, Marlee.” His speech was a bit slurred.

“C’mon. Let’s get you upstairs.”

One step at a time they got up to the third floor and to Dennis’ front door. He carried his keys on a retractable chain clipped on his belt. Marlee opened his door and they stumbled inside. It was dark, even though the sun was bright outside.

Both of their apartments shared the same floor plan. Marlee reached out for the light switch.

When the two 100-watt bulbs in the hallway fixture lit up, she could see that the heavy shades were drawn on all of the windows and that there was very little in the way of furniture in the apartment.

The living room was empty except for a loveseat that looked like two bright red lips – A masterpiece of 1980’s kitsch. Several large plants, a large hibiscus and a pair of philodendron sat in the bay window straining for any bit of sunlight. The dining room held only three aluminum pipe garment racks filled with clothes and dozens of empty hangers.

The walls were bare, no pictures, photos or artwork of any kind.

“OK, Dennis. I’m going to put you on your bed and then I’m going home. You need to sleep this off. You’ll be fine.”
”Yes, Sir, Ma’am. I am putty in your hands.”

Marlee pushed open the bedroom door and flipped on the lights. They illuminated a large, bare mattress on the floor against the wall. No pillows, sheets or blankets covered the blue flower-print fabric.

Unlike the rest of the apartment, the walls in the bedroom were decorated with hundreds of pictures. There were reprints of old Rock and Roll concert posters, a picture of Einstein sticking out his tongue at the world and hundreds of photographs of Haight Street.

Some of the photos were taken at the annual Haight St. Street Fair showing thousands of people filling the street, all of them intent on music, beer and revelry.

There were snapshots of both groups and individuals. Storefronts on Haight Street were shown in 8 x 10 glossy prints.

Marlee noticed that mixed in with the pastiche of photographs were several pictures showing Luco Reyes. She also saw one showing Luco sitting at a table inside the People’s Cafe…talking with her.

Rather than question him now about the pictures and maybe get him antagonized again, Marlee just wanted to get him onto his mattress and then get out of there.

They moved across the room, the glossy paper sending flares of light across the ceiling. Marlee staggered under her load and they both fell against the closet door.

“I love you, Marlee.”

“I know. I know. Let’s get you to sleep.” She tried to push him toward the mattress, but he pushed back, pinning her to the door.

“I love you, Marlee,” he said again, only this time there was an insistent edge to it as he pressed his body against hers and clamped his hand tightly on her breast.

“No! Dennis, stop!”

He squeezed harder. A mixture of pain and panic washed over her. He lowered his head, trying to kiss her lips.

Over the years since she had reached puberty, Marlee had had to contend with the unwanted attention and the crude gropings of both men and boys. In college she had taken a self-defense class sponsored by the local Rape Crisis Center. She knew how to stop an attacker.

Dennis didn’t react to her first knee to his groin. Credit that to the painkillers. The second attempt was a direct connection between kneecap and testicles.

A half-swallowed scream came from Dennis as his grip loosened and he stumbled back, tripped on the corner of the mattress and fell on his side. He immediately curled into a fetal position and vomited.

Marlee was surprised by the reaction to her defensive move. This was the first time she had ever had to use it. She watched him writhe in pain. She also saw her Eggs Benedict and champagne brunch staining his shirt and the blue mattress cover.

She knew that he was no immediate danger and that when he finally realized what he had done, he would be mortified. But right now she didn’t care about that. He was in agony and on the floor, she had put him there and that was alright with her. He earned it.

She took a quick look around the room. There were a half a dozen single-use cameras on the floor in the corner. She picked one up and took picture after picture of Dennis puking his brains out. When the film ran out she tossed the camera on the mattress, walked over to the wall and tore down the photo of her and Luco.

With one last look at Dennis, she walked out of his apartment, leaving his front door wide open.

“Better check your locks, Dennis.”

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Five

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

She loved to shop and it didn’t matter for what. However, this shopping excursion was joyful in a special way. It was all to bring pleasure to a new friend.

Marlee had promised Dennis Thayer a Sunday breakfast, but she decided that a brunch would be better, more civilized. So, here she was, going up and down the aisles at Cala Foods, the only true supermarket on Haight Street.

The menu she had settled on would be: a fruit cup, orange juice, Eggs Benedict, asparagus and affordable champagne. “Hey, if you’re going to do it, do it right” she mumbled to herself as she perused the wine aisle.

It had taken three days of Mall crawling to get the comfortable furniture and accessories that gave her an apartment that would let her prepare and serve her brunch. It would be hard to make a decent hollandaise when you didn’t have so much as a wooden spoon to your name. Now her kitchen, while still short on counter space, sported a clean, hi-tech look.

“God bless Sears and in Kitchen-Aid we trust.”

Her credit cards were melted around the edges from creating her new home, but, at least, money was not an issue. Phillip and MetLife had done a lot of business. She was far from rich, but Kraft Macaroni and Cheese would be on the menu only by choice.

A full refrigerator always made Marlee feel secure and safe from just about anything.

“If you have a roof over your head and food in the ice-box nothing can hurt you” – So said her Nana Antonia, a child of the Great Depression. One look at her shopping cart and Marlee knew that she was safe for at least a week.

The next morning she was up early, dusting, rearranging and even primping a bit, anxious to play hostess.

She hadn’t cooked for anyone in a long time. After Phillip’s death Marlee moved back in with her parents where she and her mother slipped back into their earlier roles. Marlee was no longer an independent woman. She was a daughter in her parent’s home.

But now, here in San Francisco, a continent away, in her own apartment, she was herself again. She was again – period.

Finally, everything was ready to go. She wouldn’t finish the cooking until Dennis arrived.

“Oh, my God. When is he coming? We never set a specific time.” She looked at her watch. It was almost 10:45. She couldn’t wait any longer. She nervously tapped her toe on the new area rug from Pier 1, and then she remembered what Dennis had said. She grabbed the sponge mop from the closet, went into the parlor and gave three sharp raps on the ceiling with the mop handle. The glass lighting fixture rattled. She tried three more taps, but with a little less vigor. Sweeping up fallen plaster was not the way to kick off a Sunday brunch. From up above she heard a muffled voice yelling something and three quick taps on the floor.

Hearing his acknowledgment of her signal Marlee returned to the kitchen to pour the orange juice and get the champagne glasses from the dish rack. She held one up to the light to check for spots.

“Miss Marlee, you have really got to check your door locks.” Dennis was peeking around the corner of the kitchen doorway.

Marlee jumped in surprise and a champagne glass went flying toward the ceiling. She grabbed at it and only managed to knock it higher still. Her guest moved into the room and deftly plucked it from the air.

“He makes the catch and the crowd goes wild!”

“Jesus H. Christ, Dennis, you scared me half to death. How did you…?”

“Your door was open. I knocked and it just swung open.”

Marlee leaned back against the sink still trying to get her heart back into her chest.

“Everything’s OK, girl.” He held up the champagne glass. “Why don’t you fill this with something for me while I show you what I brought?” He stepped back into her hallway while Marlee wrestled the cork out of the chilled bottle with barely a whisper of protest from the champagne. As she started to pour the Napa Valley bubbly, he reappeared holding a small bouquet of red and white tulips.

“Ta-Da! I brought flowers. I figured that you’d already have some, but you can never have enough beauty in your life, I always say.” She took the tulips with her left hand as she held out a glass, filled to overflowing. He moved closer and sipped at the champagne while she still had it in her hand. He put his hand on hers to steady the glass. “Mmm, very nice. Thanks. Every day should start with champagne and tulips.”

Marlee smiled even though she felt a bit awkward about his touch. “I can’t argue with that,” she said. He took the glass from her hand.

“I’m glad you brought the flowers. I totally forgot. I’ve been so busy this week.”

Dennis retreated a couple of steps and set his empty glass on the stove.

“Well then, it’s a good thing I picked them up. And…I’ve got something else for you, a little housewarming gift.”

“Oh, Dennis, you shouldn’t have. What is it?” His enthusiasm was contagious.

He turned his back to her, reached into his shirt and spun back around holding up a small hardcover edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass.”

I just thought you might like it. It’s one of my favorites, always has been.” He held it out to her and gave her a small, but courtly bow.

“Thank you, Dennis. It’s a favorite of mine too. I had a copy, but I guess I lost it in the move.”

“Movers – they’ll steal you blind. Refill?” He held up his empty glass and in a very bad English accent asked, “Could I have some more, please?”

While Marlee began assembling the food, Dennis put the flowers into a glass wine carafe that Marlee had picked up for just that purpose. He set them in the middle of her round, butcher-block dining room table. The red cloth napkins matched well with the tulips. He squinted at the table and picked up one of the knives, giving it a quick heft as he examined the design. “K Mart or Target? Oh, Miss Marlee, you need lessons.”

“What’s that?” Marlee was behind him holding two steaming plates. He took the plates and set them by the napkins. “I was just saying how lovely your table setting looks. Really quite elegant. Your flatware is to die for.”

It was a pleasant little brunch, as brunches go. The food was tasty. The champagne bubbles tickled the palate just right and the conversation wandered from topic to topic. Eventually it took on a more personal tone. Dennis drank steadily as they exchanged bits and pieces of their histories.

Marlee gave him the basic facts about what brought her to San Francisco.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Four

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Four

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

Marlee chose the opposite side of the street for her return trip down Haight Street. She saw chilly tourists renting inline skates and bicycles for a high-speed zip through the Park. She resisted the barker’s pitch, from a chubby girl dressed in black, to step into “Cold Steel” for a piercing of the soft tissue of her choice. The list of possible sites made Marlee feel very “Ohio.”

“It must be a California thing,” she thought.

Seeing the bounteous display of produce at the Haight Street Grocer for the second time, she couldn’t resist the huge Navel oranges or the pencil thin fresh asparagus. It would be perfect with her Eggs Benedict for Sunday’s meal with Dennis Thayer. After all, she did promise him a brunch.

Even though she was just a block from home, she decided to stop for a cool drink. She didn’t

want this excursion to end.

“The People’s Cafe”, near the corner at Masonic Street, was large and airy, with tall sliding windows that made it an inviting oasis and a prime location for idle time people watching.

Marlee looked over the large menu board mounted high on the wall behind the sparkling display case that teemed with decadent pastries.

The cafe was only half full this time of day. The tables were populated mainly with locals, sipping coffee and chatting. Off in the far corner sat one bearded neighborhood denizen, madly scribbling another novel that no one would ever read. It was almost the cliché of a San Francisco Coffee House.

“And what can I get for you today?”

Marlee lowered her gaze from the menu and into a pair of gentle gray eyes that sparkled like dusty diamonds.

“What would you like?”

“Oh, something cool and refreshing, I think.”

He smiled and his words came to her ears with an almost lyric quality wrapped in a warm baritone.

“Ah, there’s nothing better after a morning in the cosmic heat of The Haight.”

Small lines formed at the corners of his eyes. His lashes made her think of a dozing cat. She noticed a small cleft in his chin and wondered if it made it hard for him to shave in the morning.

“I’ll tell you what, you have a seat and I’ll bring you something that will cool the fire on your brow and fuel the passion in your heart.”

She found a table by the window, but instead of watching the passing parade she found herself staring at the barista with the beautiful eyes.

“He is delicious, isn’t he?”

“Excuse me?” said Marlee. The interrupting voice broke her trance. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

Sitting at a nearby table was a woman who had been pretty ten years ago.

“Luco – He’s gorgeous, isn’t he? But put your tongue back in your mouth, Dearie. He may flirt with you and whisper slivers of his poetry in your ear, but he’s not a man for the long haul. Trust me. I know.”

“I’m sorry, but what are you talking about?” People in Cleveland didn’t just talk to strangers like this.

“She’s saying that she’s upset because I never asked her to spend a month making love on the beach in Baja. Am I right, Marjorie?” The barista wiggled a finger in reprimand as he smiled tenderly at the woman. She deflated under his gaze. Obviously, she still carried around a long-term, and unextinguished, torch.

Marlee looked up into the smooth face of the man with the gigawatt smile. He had a large pastel blue cup and saucer in his hand.

“May I join you for a moment? I made this for you. It’s my personal favorite – espresso, steamed milk with a shot of amaretto, and a single clove, for luck.”

He didn’t wait for her answer as he slid into the empty chair across the table from Marlee.

This warm spot of male light was Luco Reyes, a 15th generation Californian. His family had come to the New World with the first wave of Spanish explorers. He reflected the lineage of the Grandees along with the gifts of other visitors to the Pacific coast, including the Imperial Russian Dynasty.

Just shy of six feet tall, he wore his jet-black hair cut short for convenience. He was not a man who fussed over his looks. He was the man who was there in the mirror the first thing in the morning.

His face was lightly tanned; a healthy glow laid on a complexion the color of tea with just a touch or two of cream.

Luco Reyes kept himself physically fit, but not like a 7-day-a-week gym jockey. Underneath his chambray shirt he had the spring-loaded muscularity of a Middleweight boxer. His body answered with the fast reflexes and easy confidence that didn’t require “muscle shirts” to advertise their presence.

He had the quick wit and romantic heart of the poet that he was. He wrote at night in his flat on Stanyan Street above the bicycle shop. From his windows he had a view of the entrance to Golden Gate Park and the playground and carousel beyond. His poems were long and dynamic, with sensuous imagery and a desperate sadness.

At the cafe he flirted shamelessly and fell in lust hourly, but rarely let it go further than a wink, a smile and the occasional nibble on a very willing earlobe.

As Marlee had just discovered and the woman in the corner could not let loose of: one simple flex of his shoulders or a smiling moment in his focus and you knew that this was a man who could make your eyes roll back in your head and let you forget to go home and feed the cat.

“I hope you like it.”

“Oh, I’m sure that I will. It smells wonderful. Thank you.”

“Please, call me Luco and welcome to the neighborhood. I hope you stay here a long time.”

“How did you know that I’m new here? Does Cleveland show that readily?”

“Not really, but tourists don’t buy asparagus for souvenirs and I’ve never seen you in here before. I would remember you.”

Marlee took a sip of the coffee. It was delicious with an exotic overtone that invigorated her and yet relaxed the tight muscles in her neck. It was her new favorite thing in San Francisco.

Luco looked back at the counter area. Customers were beginning to get impatient.

“I have to get back to work, but stay and enjoy the coffee, my treat.” He started to get up. He smelled of cinnamon.

“Thank you very much…Luco.”

“For you…always, my pale beauty.” He slipped away from the table leaving Marlee to wonder if the warm glow she was feeling was from the shot of amaretto or from the new man who had obviously just entered her life.

“I warned you, Dearie. He’s inside you now. You’re hooked. You didn’t notice that he never asked you for your name, did you? He never will.”

Marlee tuned out the hopelessly desperate woman in the corner. She sipped her coffee and forced herself to look at the strangers passing by outside the open window.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued – Part Three

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

She slept through the rest of the night deeply and motionless. When she awoke, the morning sun was coming over the treetops in Buena Vista Park across the street from 1298 Haight Street. Apartment Number 6 was warm and this newcomer to the California Dream knew that there were things to do, memories to be created.

The floors in San Francisco are as hard as anywhere else. One night sleeping on the whiskey colored wood was enough to establish the purchase of a bed as priority number one.

The next night she would sleep on crisp white sheets with soft new pillows and warm blankets to enhance her peaceful dreams.

Her alarm clock on her second morning on Haight Street was a chorus of sharp cries and squawks from outside the bay window. She opened her eyes and slowly focused on the world just in time to see streaks of red, green and blue flash across her field of vision.

She learned later that, years ago, no one remembers exactly when, a number of parrots kept as pets either escaped their cages or were abandoned by shortsighted owners. These parrots soared into the palm and eucalyptus trees of San Francisco and sired new flocks throughout the city. In the mornings and at sunset they spread pallets of color in the air as they soared and glided across the urban landscape. St. Francis would be pleased.

With the morning sun washing through her windows, Marlee drifted lazily in that creamy pool between asleep and awake. Dreaming still, but becoming aware of the world around her. Sounds and motions incorporated into those last minute dreams and cozy never felt so good. The transition from the one world to the other became a luxurious slide of absolute sensory perfection where everything was as it should be and there was no need to hurry.

1298 Haight Street was an old building by San Francisco standards. Built just before the 1906 earthquake and fire that redrew the city map, the pale pink stucco and terra cotta tiled roof made an imposing presence on the corner of Haight and Central. Four stories tall it dominated the corner of Haight and Central. It marked the start of the commercial section of the Upper Haight neighborhood. For the next seven blocks there were shops and galleries that catered to the tourists who were looking for traces of The Summer of Love to take back home to where that Summer was only 1967.

Inside apartment #6, standing in front of the long mirror hung over the bathroom door, Marlee combed out her hair. She had let it grow out to shoulder length, straight and pale blonde, almost white. When taken with her translucent skin it made people think that she was Swedish, but her ancestry was Welsh. Welsh, with some Viking invader blood 1000 years old in the mix. Her eyes were green, almost the shade of the ocean just before it drops off into the deep.

5’8” tall and slim, “boyish” her 10th grade Phys. Ed. teacher had called her. It was never a figure that made men turn their heads as she walked by. Her fine blonde hair and the music in her hips did that.

Her wardrobe was distinctly Midwest Rust Belt plain. It was excessively Earth-toned for a young attractive blonde in California, but she perked up her look with a vibrant scarf and some jewelry. It would do, she thought, as she opened the front gate, set to meet her new neighborhood.

Taking her time, not wanting to miss anything, Marlee window-shopped and ambled into the eclectic commerce of Haight Street.

She considered the latest Rave fashions on the rack at “Housewares”, all to the driving techno-beat from the in-house disc jockey. The iguanas sunning themselves in the window didn’t seem to mind.

She laughed out loud as she looked through the Anarchist Collective Bookstore. Their display of pamphlets and political screeds loudly denounced the capitalism at which they were so dismally failing. Signs trumpeting a “Half-Price Sale” and “Clearance” were everywhere, alerting the three lost-looking teenage browsers that they too could join the Revolution at a discount.

Showing that The Haight sold more than recycled bad ideas and hipster fads, there was “Kids Only.” A sunlight filled shop that catered to the families in the neighborhood with plush toys and dolls sweet enough to melt the heart of any six year-old and probably Mommy and Daddy too.

Marlee also saw the casualties of The Haight’s decades long war with the mythology of drugs. Young men and women, some of them really children yet, stumbled up and down the sidewalks with tombstones in their eyes.

“Spare change” was their mantra. Most were runaways or throwaways living on the street or in nearby Golden Gate Park. Their daily objective being to get the cash to buy a slice of pizza and a sufficient dose of heroin or crack or crystal meth to get them through another fearful day and night. If the money was tight the pizza would wait until tomorrow.

This part of her new neighborhood bothered her, but she knew that her spare change would only end up, eventually, in a zippered body bag.

She quickly adopted the long-time resident’s defensive stare that set her apart from the more vulnerable tourists. “See the young druggies, but do so with disdain.” Today was to be a day for happy exploration. She decided to not be drawn into anything that would ruin that idea.

At the “Haight Street Grocers” a sidewalk display of fruits and vegetables fanned out with colors as vivid as any tie-dye in the window of the nearby T-shirt shop.

Passing on her many opportunities to buy shiny black leather and metal studded clothing; she ended up at Stanyan Street. Here the urban gave way to the bucolic wonder of Golden Gate Park, a horticultural masterpiece of nature-defying greenery that extended all the way to the ocean.

Marlee crossed from the world of the hip, the hopeless and the California Dreamers and entered a more gentle land where manicured lawns, rhododendron groves, and lawn bowlers dressed in white, lowered the adrenaline level of life.

She was enjoying the feel of the sun on her face. She knew that she would be pink in minutes. Sunscreen was added to her mental shopping list.

In a city of surprises she was getting used to the unexpected. Just a two minute walk from one of the busiest streets in the city she found herself sitting on a wooden park bench listening to children squeal with delight as they swooped down a corkscrew sliding board and scaled a three-dimensional plastic maze.

The centerpiece of the playground was a carousel with hand carved and painted fantastic animals going around and around to the tinny music that comes from only the best carousels. It was a glorious piece of 19th century America still enchanting the children of the 21st. Marlee hugged the slender neck of the grinning giraffe as she whirled inside an eddy of flashing lights and laughing babies. This was starting out to be a very good day.

 

Throwback Thursday from Dec. 2015 “$65K A Month Should Be Enough”

melanie 1

OVER COFFEE I SCANNED THE CELEBRITY NEWS to see if Ihad been nominated for something – nothing again this year.

Failing to score any Oscar or Golden Globe nominations I shifted my focus over to the “Splitsville” column where I learned that Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are divorcing. Que Lastima!

In La-La Land this Splitsville stuff is a big money world.

With the Miss Melanie and “Zorro” Banderas rupture the dollar amounts got my attention. It seems that Antonio agreed to a settlement whereby Melanie gets 65K PER MONTH for living expenses.

Read more…

Memories

I HAVE A FRIEND IN CALIFORNIA. Actually I have more than one, but the one I’m thinking of lives and works north of San Francisco smack in the middle of the area recently hit with terrible wildfires. He and his family were evacuated as the flames moved close to their home.

I cannot imagine how that must feel – to walk out of your home, leaving everything behind. It must be humbling at the very least.

Read more…

Who Is Normal?

EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE I AM ASKED TO GIVE SHORT SPEECHES or presentations to civic groups or service organizations. I’ve done a few things for the likes of Kiwanis and businesses. Lately I have been asked to speak before an organization that serves citizens with special needs.

A couple of months ago I went downtown and spoke before both clients and staff of this same outfit about the value of writing down their own personal stories.

I said to them that, “No matter who you are you are a special and unique individual and you have a story worth telling.” I spoke to them about how to write down their stories and how, in doing so, they would be able to both learn and to teach. They would learn more about themselves and they would teach everyone else about their uniqueness, challenges, and gifts that they have to offer to the world.

Read more…

What Do You Mean, “Move?”

I LOVE OLD MOVIES. It doesn’t hamper my enjoyment if it is a film that is 20 years old, or 30, 50, or even older than me.

“Oh, it has sound. What fun!”

Last night, at an ungodly hour, I grabbed the remote and tuned into my 173rd viewing of “The Producers,” a gem of a movie from 1967 with Gene Wilder in his first major role and the completely insane Zero Mostel.

If you have never seen this movie, Shame on you! Go to your room!

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter 38 Continued

Fiction Saturday

“Dominic, killing us won’t solve anything,” said Laura. “What’s done is done. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that Graciella was the law. I ran away from you because I wasn’t going to take you beating up on me anymore. If I’d wanted you dead all I had to do was ask my father and you’d have disappeared.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry about hitting you, Beverly. You know something, Bette? Beverly here has a mean one-two punch. She knocked out a tooth of mine once. See, back here.” Dominic opened his mouth and pointed to a gap in his teeth with the barrel of his gun.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter38

Fiction Saturday

Chapter 38

 

A fresh batch of tourists were getting off the train and heading for the border. A few walked toward the McDonalds, but saw the yellow crime scene tape and turned back to join the flow to the crossing gate.

Laura flipped off the light switch and closed the Cambio door behind her. They looked up and down the street. Nobody was paying them any attention. Laura took Davis’s arm as they casually crossed the plaza. She idly swung the plastic shopping bag holding $180,000 worth of forged documents and the file folder from Molina’s office. They looked just like a couple of tourists heading home after a day of shopping in Tijuana. They made a beeline for the nearest open door on the waiting red train.

They started to step up into the car when a uniformed San Diego police sergeant started coming down and blocked their way. Laura and the officer made eye contact. After what felt like an hour, the officer stepped back up into the car.

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Take Me Out To The Shrine

HERE WE ARE ENJOYING THE MAY FLOWERS that have bloomed thanks to the April showers. The grass is green and, oh, yeah, the Baseball season is in full swing.

Now that The Boys of Summer have a few weeks under their belts and rosters are solidifying. It is time to erect “The Shrine” at Casa Nuestra.

Each season we are able to acquire some of the team “giveaways” that make the shrine just a giftshop away from being a real roadside attraction.

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Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter 37 Continued

Fiction Saturday

Chapter 37 Continued

As they passed it, they both looked over into the alcove. The dead man seemed so very small. Davis walked over and pulled the pistol from Lizard Boy’s waistband and started to stick it in his belt. Laura stopped him and held out her hand. He passed it to her. They left the bundle of cash locked in the dead man’s hand.

It was only another fifty feet before they saw a set of steps rising toward a carpet-covered door.

They slowly climbed the steps and listened. They couldn’t hear anything coming from the other side.

“Well, if nothing else, we have the element of surprise,” whispered Davis. He reached for the knob.

“We hope,” said Laura and pulled his hand back from the door. She would go first. The Mexican’s pistol pointed up. 

“Let’s go, my dear,” she said. They both took a deep breath of the warm and stale air.

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Not Just Another Holiday

TODAY IS A SPECIAL DAY. IT IS A DAY FOR REMEMBRANCE.

Today is National Lost Sock Memorial Day.

This is a time to scratch our heads and wonder, “Where in the heck is the other sock?”

We have all spent time with our heads stuck in the dryer looking for the mate to the orphan sock we are holding in our hand. That other sock was there when we started the dryer, but now…

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Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter 37

Fiction Saturday

Chapter Thirty-Seven

 

       Lizard Boy smiled as Laura and Davis walked over to the metal storage shed.

“Things are better at the border. They’re opening up again,” he said to them in his usual staccato style.

A small, stocky man with strong Mayan facial features, held open the door to the shed and motioned them all inside. His face exhibited several prison tattoos. He was bare-chested and wearing a leather vest. His coppery skin showed a number of scars. He had a large knife sheathed on his belt and over his shoulder was slung an AK-47, the Third World’s weapon of choice. In his left hand, he held a fresh caramel Frappuccino.

“I’m glad you liked my coffees,” he said. “Just like I used to make at Starbucks. Good, huh? Well, bien viaje, amigos.”

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Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Chapter 36 Continued

Fiction Saturday

Chapter 36 Continued

pull-tijuanaOutside, the sun was beginning to go down and an offshore breeze was finally cutting through the hot and hectic city. The shopping-mad tourists were heading home and the drinking-mad tourists were arriving. The mood in Tijuana was changing, like it did everyday at this time, from commercial cordiality to alcoholic depravity. The zebra-painted donkeys that pulled small carts along the avenidas so tourists could have some unusual pictures to take home to Iowa, were being replaced by other donkeys for another kind of entertainment that Tijuana was famous for.  

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How Was Your Morning?

HUMAN BEINGS ARE THE CRAZIEST PEOPLE – and I think I know the zaniest of the bunch. They follow me.

I lived in California for 25 years – the world’s largest open-air asylum, and to put the frosting on that, I resided in San Francisco – Ground Zero for weird.

After all those years in California I moved to Indiana. Terre Haute (That’s French for “We’re gentle people aside from the Meth.”) is the Peoria of the Midwest with good, solid, hard working people who don’t wallow around in being nutty. If this is so why am I sitting next to a guy who would make San Francisco move to another table?

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Fiction Saturday – “And Pull The Hole… Continued Chapter 34

Fiction Saturday

Chapter Thirty-Four

 

pull-molinas-bldgIn the darkroom at Ernesto Molina’s photography studio a new person was being born. Years of experience in creating false documents for many of the Earth’s most dangerous people had made Molina a very wealthy man. His home was an opulent, yet tastefully decorated, house by the ocean, near Rosarita Beach. This cheap-looking studio was a place to do his work undisturbed. He owned the building.

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Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole… Chapter 31 Continued

Fiction Saturday

Chapter 31 – Continued

pull-border-mcd“That’s two Egg McMuffins’ with cheese and two coffees, and thank you for visiting McDonald’s, Buenos dias.”

“And buon giorno to you.”

Laura picked up the tray and turned around to look for Davis.  He had found them a table by the wall.  The restaurant was already half filled and would soon be packed, just as Vivian had predicted.

“Here we go,” she said.  “Oh, could we switch seats?  I want to be able to look out of the window.”

“Sure, no problem,” said Davis.  They traded places.  Davis could see the side door that opened onto the small parking lot and Laura could scan the entire plaza.

As she poured a pink envelope of sweetener into her coffee, Laura’s eyes picked out the good guys and the wise guys.

“Vivian was right.  This plaza is overloaded with cops and I see three guys that might be Dominic’s boys and two more over on that bench back by the train.  He must have called in reinforcements.  I don’t recognize them.  Damn!”

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Fiction Saturday – And Pull The Hole… Continued Chapter 31

Fiction Saturday 

 

Chapter 31

pull-traffic-borderThe traffic heading south on Interstate 5 was heavy, as usual.  Every day of the week thousands of cars and trucks drive from the United States into Mexico through the crossing at San Ysidro, the last little community before the border.

All manner of merchandise goes over into Mexico by truck.  A much narrower range of cargo comes back the other way.

The United States Border Patrol has the unpleasant and futile duty of trying to stop the flow of illicit drugs and other contraband that spews across the border by the truckload every day.  Their best tools in this struggle are highly trained dogs and years of experience in spotting drug mules—the the people who attempt to cross into the U.S. with bundles of narcotics strapped onto, or ingested into, their bodies.  They get caught at the border with stunning regularity.  The drug wholesalers who send them don’t seem to care, because they know that even the small number who do squeak past the dogs and the eagle eyes of the Border Patrol make it an incredibly profitable method of transport.

As a result, the crossing at Tijuana is one of the most heavily-monitored international borders between two countries that aren’t actually shooting at each other, although that is starting to happen as well.

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Throwback Thursday from March 2015

The Five People I Almost Killed

Sedaka

FOLLOWING UP ON PREVIOUS SATURDAYS I have decided to post another piece from my catalog.

This was written as a performance piece to be done in front of a live audience.

                             ***** 

I think it is important to stress that in the title of this piece I say “almost killed,” and not “killed.” To the best of my knowledge I have never actually killed anyone. I just tend to come close. Sometimes very close and I’ve done so five times – so far. The five nearly “dearly departed” have all shared one characteristic: they are, or to a large degree were, famous. Let me explain.

 

Neil Sedaka -A pop singer and songwriter and almost the filling for a chalk outline on the pavement.

 I was driving on California Street in San Francisco up the steep grade to the top of Nob Hill. While motoring legally, staying in my lane, I noticed a fellow in a bright orange track suit jogging down the sidewalk. Under other circumstances, dressed like that, one could easily have mistaken him for a small-time Mob Soldier with poor taste in casual wear. The way things were progressing there should not have been any cause for alarm. Then Mr. Sedaka made his almost fateful move.

Without warning or, I suspect, even a sense of awareness of his heavily urban surroundings, Neil Sedaka, early Rock and Roll icon and current attraction at the Venetian Room in one of the swank hotels on Nob Hill, decided to make a sharp left turn. He veered from the safety of the sidewalk out into the street and directly into the path of my three thousand pound piece of American Steel.

 I slammed onto my brakes and my Ford began to slide on the steel Cable Car tracks. That wasn’t helping the situation. When I at last managed a complete stop and unclenched my teeth I was able to enjoy an extreme close-up of Neil Sedaka, who stood no more than six inches in front of my front bumper. I have to admit that I’ve never seen eyes that wide open on anything this side of seafood. His mouth was drawn into a grimace that was probably halfway through pronouncing something like, “Oh, crap,” or “Please God, not while I’m dressed like this.”

To say we made eye contact would be a severe understatement. I imagine that in his eyes I looked pretty scary too. I do recall that we both made a quick Sign of the Cross and I’d wager that we both pinched a sphincter as well.

 After what seemed to be several hours, but was probably no more than three seconds, Neil Sedaka, the great, and nearly late, singer of 1950s popular tunes, finished crossing the street and headed back to his hotel, no doubt for a stiff drink and a change of clothing. I continued on down California Street. I have no idea where I was headed after that. All I knew was that I came very close to having my name finally appear in the pages of Variety.

 And then there was the time that I almost killed Hollywood legend Henry Fonda.

 I was in New York City for a long weekend. I flew in to catch a few shows and see some old friends. I was not there to end the life and career of one of this nation’s finest actors. I just came close, that’s all.

It was Saturday night and I was attending a performance of “American Buffalo,” starring Robert Duvall. The theater was just down the block from Times Square. My seat was in one of the side boxes up above the sold out orchestra section. It was a good place to scan the audience for celebrities. I spotted both Kevin McCarthy of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” fame and Henry Fonda. Both were resplendent in very handsome tuxedos. I was not. Put me in a tuxedo and I begin to resemble a black-tie bowling ball.

After the final curtain, as the audience was shuffling out, I was directed to join a flow of other folks and exit the theater by a side door. I guess they didn’t want us mixing with the better dressed people who were probably heading off to the Rainbow Room or some other fancy nightspot – not to Howard Johnson’s for fried clams.

When I got through the exit door I found myself on a very crowded sidewalk, filled to overflowing with happy theatergoers. I turned left and quickly headed up the street. I hadn’t gone more than fifteen feet when I collided with another impatient audience member who was hurrying to get into the long black limo parked at the curb. We slammed into each other with enough force to rock us both back on our heels. Instinctively, we both reached out in an attempt to steady ourselves and prevent falling to the ground. I grabbed onto the nearest person, as did he. I grabbed onto Henry Fonda and Henry Fonda grabbed onto me.

When we steadied a bit we both shouted, “Are you alright?” After all, Mr. Fonda was getting up in years, speeding toward his role in “On Golden Pond.” He had his entourage behind him pushing him back to a fully upright and locked position. I had him.

I’m sure the look on my face must have been a mixture of pain, shock, and “Uh-oh, I will be hated by the movie-going public forever if he dies.” The look on his face also reflected pain, shock and, “Uh-oh, this could cost me a bundle if this guy sues.”

For a remarkably skinny older gent he seemed pretty strong. He had ahold of my jacket with both hands and pulled me back up straight.

We stood there just looking at each other for a few seconds until our eyes stopped rattling. We both apologized for the collision and then we shook hands. At that point his “People” hustled him to his limo like they feared I was some sort of clumsy assassin with three names.

Kevin McCarthy was nowhere to be seen. I guess his body had been snatched safely out of my reach.

And then there was the time I almost killed Rock Superstar Graham Nash.

One of the stellar attractions of Washington D.C., aside from the ability to vent one’s frustrations by standing on the Mall and being able to shake your fists in the direction of both Congress and The White house simultaneously, is visiting the Smithsonian Institution. There you can experience both American and World cultural treasures.

A few years ago my wife and I were in D.C. and enjoying strolling through the exhibit halls of the Smithsonian. While there we saw a sign by the top of an escalator announcing an event having to with “The Greats of Rock and Roll.” I think you can see where this is going – up the escalator.

The collision, while not seismic in magnitude, certainly made an impression on both of us – actually on all three of us. This time it was my wonderful wife, Dawn, and I who “met up with” one third of Crosby, Stills and Nash. We had a two-to-one advantage.

My first impression of Graham Nash was, “Who the heck is this clumsy oaf?” My second impression was that the answer to that question was, “Me.” I have to admit that I really wasn’t paying attention to where I was going as we stepped off the escalator. I was busy reading the sign about the “Rock and Roll Greats” who were going to be visiting the Smithsonian and I turned directly into the path of the tall guy in the really nice suit.

As the pattern established in my previous near homicidal experiences, he and I grabbed each other to steady ourselves. Actually, I think we both grabbed out in an effort to steady just me. Graham Nash was much younger than Henry Fonda and I was now considerably older than I was when I rammed into Mr. Fonda.

While Dawn and I were there to just casually roam the halls, it appears that Graham Nash was there to participate in a scholarly seminar on “Woodstock, Flower Power and How David Crosby Has Managed To Still Be Alive,” or something similar.

Once we disentangled ourselves, Graham Nash and we all apologized and asked if any of us were mortally injured. Assured that we would all survive to collide another day, he hurried off to be scholarly-like and Dawn and I gazed after him, wondering out loud, “Who was that guy? He looks familiar.” Dawn commented that he certainly had a nice head of snow-white hair and I said that he was quite tall and had a great tailor. “Nice suit.”

It wasn’t long until our mutual light bulbs flashed on. “That was Graham Nash,” we both said, almost simultaneously. And we were both right. Of course, by then it was too late to prolong my grabbing hold on him and pose for some snapshots. Instead I have to be content with the memory of our brief encounter and to add him to this pantheon of my proximities with other people’s passing.

And then there was the time I almost killed well known actor Danny Glover.

I was minding my own business, not bothering anyone, when all of a sudden I found myself seatbelt deep in another near-manslaughter experience. And this time I had the feeling that at least one of us was truly going to buy the farm – and it was more likely to be me. Size matters.

I was living in San Francisco, in the old Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It is an area, in a city known for being crowded and not motorist-friendly. The streets are narrow and clogged with cars, buses, trucks, and out of work performance artists steering pedal-cabs through traffic hauling around frozen tourists from Indiana. You can always spot the tourists in San Francisco. They are the blue people. They come to California expecting it to all be sunshine and surfs-up weather. Instead they find polar current powered gale force winds and hordes of eager sweatshirt vendors.

I was in my compact Ford approaching the intersection of Haight St. and Masonic Ave. – one of the busiest intersections in the area. I was planning on going straight up Haight. Unfortunately my plans meant nothing to the guy in the huge woodland green Range Rover coming the other way who decided to make a left turn onto Masonic. I must assume that Range Rovers did not come equipped with turn signals for that model year. Either that or the other driver had never mastered the complicated ritual involved to activate his turn signals. Luckily both vehicles had good brakes. If one of us had not had them we would have ended up sharing a front seat.

The sound of screeching brakes brought all other traffic, automotive and pedestrian, to a halt. It was a shame that I had left my celebrity autograph book at home because, in that moment, I found myself bulging eyeball to bulging eyeball with Danny Glover. I enjoyed him in “The Color Purple.” I enjoyed him in all six hundred of the “Lethal Weapon” films. I did not enjoy him looming over me, with a death grip on the steering wheel of his six thousand pound chunk of British Status Symbol inches away from my car window. Danny Glover has a very large head. Perhaps it just looked that way because he was so close.

That Range Rover is a legendary off-road vehicle and Danny Glover came within inches of taking it off-road and “On-John.” My car would have, maybe, left a smudge on his bumper if we had collided. The Ford and I would have been reduced to a wet spot.

Sitting there in the intersection, Danny Glover, grimacing down at me, I felt, just for a moment mind you, like Oprah felt in the early reels of “The Color Purple.” Danny can be an imposing figure. I feel that I can call him Danny since we were so close.

Finally, other drivers on the street began to honk their horns. No one was dead. There were no flaming infernos blocking the way – just two guys who had come close to crashing. “Nothing to see here – move along, people.”

Slowly, after his blood pressure subsided and his eyeballs receded back into their sockets, Danny Glover finished his ill-advised left turn and exited both the intersection and my life. If Danny and I ever meet again under more sociable circumstances I will remind him of our first meeting and tell him that he holds a special place in my list of the five people I almost killed. And that he owes me for the cost of having my upholstery professionally cleaned.

And then there was the time I almost killed, lead guitarist of The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia.

“What a long strange trip it has been.”

Why, why, why do these things continue to happen to me?  Is it just a case of being in the wrong place at the right time? Am I meeting these people or are they meeting me? Is it all some sort of a sarcastic, dumb as a box of rocks, Kismet?

I never meant to almost shuffle off Jerry Garcia’s mortal coil. It’s not like I was stalking the man. After all, our coincidental meeting took place in my neighborhood, not his. Actually, it took place at the same intersection where I shared a special moment with Danny Glover.

This time I was the one making a turn. I was in the right-hand lane. My car had turn signals and I knew how to use them. I indicated my intention to go right onto Masonic Avenue and I started my turn. It was at this point that Jerry Garcia almost joined “The Suddenly Dead.”

While Danny Glover was at the wheel of a large off-road vehicle, Jerry Garcia, a Rock and Roll icon, adored by a huge, fanatically loyal following known as “Deadheads,” and incidentally, a very wealthy man, was moving through San Francisco traffic on a bicycle. That is a dangerous thing to do – even if I’m not nearby.

I began my turn onto Masonic, heading downhill at this point, when from behind a vehicle coming uphill, a rather chubby, bearded man on a bicycle pulls out into the downhill lane, pedaling furiously. At this point we were no more than twenty feet apart. While riding a bike in heavy traffic is risky business, doing so into the face of oncoming traffic, with me headed right at you, is just asking for it.

Calling upon my gazelle-like reflexes I hit the brakes and Jerry, with the sudden realization of the situation all over his face, swerved his bike toward the curb. I have to admit that he had a pretty good reaction time for a man his age. He threaded that bike out of traffic, over the curb, narrowly missing a tree and a large bus shelter. He skidded to a stop, across the busy sidewalk, up against the side wall of a local brew-pub. The people seated inside must have been surprised to see a real, luckily alive, rock star outside the window gasping for breath and, undoubtedly, with the pulse rate of a hummingbird.

 If I had hit him with my car, he would not have qualified for my list because of the modifier “almost.” Jerry Garcia would have died several years sooner than he did.

 As an afterthought – I was still living in that neighborhood when Jerry Garcia actually did die, without my involvement. The street was quickly besieged by news crews wanting to photograph Deadheads in Mourning. On the corner of Haight and Ashbury, ground zero for misplaced and discarded youths, CNN and a couple other news contingents were crowded around a young woman who was sitting on the sidewalk tending to several lighted candles. She appeared to be weeping and wailing. Surprisingly, she stopped suddenly, looked up at the cameras and said, “You want more, it’ll be twenty bucks.” The cash quickly appeared from the networks and she resumed her sobbing and keening for the Evening News.

 I can’t help but think that if Jerry had died underneath my Ford, instead of while in a drug treatment center, it would have been more dignified.

 Oh, well.

 Three of these near-misses with death took place while I was living in San Francisco – a quasi-risky place under the best of circumstances. Graham Nash was in Washington D.C., while Henry Fonda and I met in New York City.

As of this writing two of my semi-victims are, quite positively, dead. I had nothing to do with it, I swear. I have alibis, or at least really good plausible deniability.

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