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 “Danger”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Two

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

With that, Luco closed his eyes and thought about how long his life had been since that day when he kissed the closed coffin and said farewell to everything that mattered.

Marlee just looked at Luco and felt her heart ache for him and for her own lost love. She thought she might start crying again.

“Luco, I have to go to go fix my makeup. Please, be here when I get back.”

He looked back at her and in a soft and weary voice said, “Of course. I can’t think of any place I could go right now. Go on. I’ll be fine.”

A few minutes alone would give them both the chance to clear their heads and ask, “What just happened here?”

Standing in front of the restroom mirror, she looked at her tear-stained face and saw a new, more mature woman than the one who had walked into Martin Macks and ordered the lamb. She no longer felt alone with her past. And it was a past that was now more manageable.

She turned the tap, took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. When the water was hot, Marlee washed her face and, thankful for the fluffy cloth towels, wiped off every trace of makeup from her face.

The hot water and rubbing made her cheeks pink. Her eyes still showed the effects of her tears, but it didn’t matter any more.

Luco turned and watched Marlee walk away from the booth. It was not the usual look that a man takes as a woman walks past, although he did notice and appreciate the graceful sway of her hips and the extension of her long, slender legs as she moved. Almost like a dancer, he thought, elegant, purposeful and strong.

He watched her walk away because he wanted to make sure that she was real. Was this an actual person who had come into his life and unlocked the padlock and chains around his emotions? Or was this some angel or demon that was here to torture him for his blasphemies and weaknesses?

Seeing an opportunity, the waitress came with the check and Luco paid the bill. He tipped too much, thankful for her consideration and discretion.

She had overheard a bit and seen a lot during the evening. Knowing that it was impossible, but still, she wished that she could take this man home with her and make love to him and hold him until his tears were dry and forgotten.

When Marlee returned and sat down, she unconsciously reached out and took Luco’s hand in hers. He closed his fingers around hers without a thought. It seemed natural and right.

“Luco, I want to thank you.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me. I know that this has been terribly difficult and I hope you feel better for having let it all out.”

“I sure did that, didn’t I?” He noticed something different about her. “You’ve washed off your makeup.”

“It was a mess, beyond repair. Am I still passable?”

“You’re beautiful. That’s all I can say…beautiful.”

She blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man has said that to me.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve said it.”

“Luco, let’s go for a walk. I need to move.”

This time as they walked through the bar there were no wisecracks from the regulars. One look at Marlee and Luco as they came by and they were aware that something had changed. It was respected. While two people had passed by on the way in, one couple was leaving.

Marlee and Luco held hands as they walked down Haight Street. It was still early and the sidewalks were crowded. Some of the people moved with a nervous intensity, as if they were late. Late for a very important date.

It was a Friday night and the small clubs with live music would soon be overflowing into the street.

Standing in front of the People’s Cafe was the strawberry blonde with the knockout figure. She was taking a cigarette break and the busboy was taking a chance. He was using all of his charm to get a smile from her and maybe a date for later. Maybe it was the faint aroma of eucalyptus and cinnamon sweetening the air, but his smile and boyish looks were having an effect. She tossed her cigarette into the street, turned to go back inside and paused long enough to slide a fingertip slowly across his young lips, giving him a flame of hope and more.

Marlee and Luco walked in an isolation and noticed none of it. They heard and saw only each other. She told him how glad she was that she had moved to Haight Street. He said that it was sometimes called “The Street Of Second Chances.”

“Is that why you moved here Luco, a second chance?”

“I came here to get away from the Mission District. Everything and everyone I saw triggered a memory. I still don’t go back there even though its fifteen minutes away. It’s just too much.

There was a bit of a festive mood on the street. It was unseasonably warm and the fog was holding offshore, letting the stars shine though. The Locals have long memories and warm, clear weather stirs up memories of the earthquakes that regularly pound The City and drive away the faint of heart. They call this “Earthquake Weather”.

Marlee’s apartment was just a few blocks down the street. “Kitty-corner” from her building was “The Haight-Central Market”, a grandiose title for a tiny store stocked to the roof with a few basic foods and sufficient impulse items to satisfy most appetites. Marlee and Luco went in so she could get some cream and a lottery ticket. “I’m feeling lucky.”

They stood under the streetlight outside her door and she scratched at the ticket with a quarter.

“Well?”

“Hmmm…not tonight.”

They stared at each other and felt as awkward as two thirteen year-olds on a first date.

“Thanks for having dinner with me, Marlee.”

“Thanks for asking me, Luco.”

“Marlee, how do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“How do you go on, survive?”

“I don’t understand, Luco. How do I survive the loss of my husband?”

“Yes.”

She looked into his pain-filled eyes.

“Luco, How could I not survive? Would me dying as well or withdrawing into myself accomplish anything? Would my husband’s memory best be served by me losing my life too? No, my survival, as you call it, is the only honest thing I can do.”

“Can you teach me how to do that? I see you, going on, living. You actually seem happy. How did you accomplish that?

“Marlee, you have such strength, such power, such courage, that I am amazed. I feel so out of control by comparison. How do you sleep with those dreams and memories? I can’t.”

“Luco, I don’t have any special secret strength. Any power I have, any control I seem to have over my life has come to me at a horrible price.

“I still have the dreams about it all, the nightmares, but not as often, not as bad. The memories…are just that, memories. I’ll never forget and I don’t want to. It is a part of me. I can’t cut out a part of my life. It would be useless to even try.

“Can I teach you how to get through this? No, I can’t. I would if I could, but I can’t. The terrible losses that you and I have had are different for each of us as individuals. The pain is so very personal that what I’ve done wouldn’t work for you. Nor will yours work for me.”

“Marlee, I don’t want to go on living like this. It’s killing me, but I don’t know where to begin. What can I do? Help me, Marlee.”

“I think you began tonight, Luco. You trusted someone. You trusted me and I thank you for that. Now you have to start trusting yourself again. To trust yourself with Alicia’s memory and how to keep that memory and still move forward.”

“I’m not sure I understand all of that, but intellectually, it makes sense. I don’t know, Marlee. I thought I’d ask and I do thank you for offering me a sympathetic ear if I need it.”

“You will need it.” She took a piece of paper and a pen from her bag and wrote quickly. “Here is my number. You call me, day or night, if you need to talk. I’m serious, Luco.”

“I know you are. Thank you.”

He put the paper in his pocket, wondering if he’d ever have the courage to call her.

I’ll see you at the cafe.” He started to turn and head home.

“Luco, wait! This is too important. Tonight was amazing and I think that you and I have connected on a level that I haven’t felt in years. Thank you. Thank you so much for tonight.”

She reached out and put the palm of her hand over his heart. She could feel it beating. He pressed his hand on top of hers. Marlee moved close to him and gave him a soft, slow kiss on the lips. They inhaled the scent of each other’s skin, seeking the pheromones of the opposite sex.

“Marlee….”

“I know, Luco. I know. Me too.”

There were still too many ghosts.

Marlee Owens walked up the stairs to #6, alone. She was exhausted. It had been an emotional evening and, while old and painful memories had been brought to the surface and faced, something new and fresh was now in play.

She took a hot shower and slipped in between fresh sheets that had a bright rainbow motif.

Even though she wanted it, her brain would not let her sleep. Old thoughts of Phillip and new ones of Luco Reyes were colliding. What she had thought and felt before were running head on into what had happened tonight. And what was it that had happened tonight?

Her thoughts of Luco and tonight were, she knew, a mixture of things. There was an undeniable sympathy, what she would feel for any human being who had gone through what he had. Deeper than any sympathy though, was a concern. He was being swallowed whole by an undiminished grief. Six years, she thought. How has he managed to survive at this level of pain? His weeping was down to the bone. A stranger would have thought that they had died just the day before. During the day he hid it well, but what did he do at night?

Luco watched her go through the gate. He didn’t want to go home yet. The emptiness and silence that he knew would be waiting there for him would be too much right now.

Across the street is Buena Vista Park and Luco went and sat on the stone steps facing Marlee’s building. He looked at her window and thought about the evening that was turning into night.

“Alicia, my love, I think that something has happened to me tonight. But you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I know, Luco.”

He stood up and looked around. There was no one else nearby. He was sure that he’d heard a voice. Alicia’s voice.

“Alicia?”

“Sit down, Luco.” He craned his neck to find out who was having some fun with him. He sat down, a bit shaken.

Silently he asked for help to calm the turmoil in his head and heart, and just as silently, he heard the voice again.

“Luco, be still. You are asking for help and I’m here to offer it.”

“Are you really here Alicia?”

“I’m always here. Both of us are here with you, inside of you. You carry us with you.”

“I miss you both so much. It’s killing me.”

“I know, Luco. I’m here to stop you before it does. Before you let it kill you. Luco, it’s time, past time, for you to get back to living.”

“You want me to forget you? I can’t do that. I won’t. Never.”

“Of course not, Mijita. You’ve always been a pit bull of a man. You grab on and never let go. But, now, you have to let go. Let us go, my dear.”

“How can I go on without you?”

“We’ll always be in your memory, but you need to let us out of your heart. You need to let in someone else and there just isn’t room. You need to write poems for someone new.”

Luco, filled with confusion, pain and longing, stood up, lifted his arms to heaven and cried out loud.

“I know that. God help me, I know that, but I can’t.”

A couple walking past, jumped as the man on the steps yelled. The woman moved to put her partner between herself and the crazy man.

“Luco, be quiet and listen to me.”

He sat down and pressed his hands over his ears.

“Luco, you and I were in love, but I died and our baby died. That happened a long time ago, but you act as if it was yesterday. You’ve allowed your pain to cripple you. A man like you shouldn’t be living like you are. You are a man who needs family and you have cut yourself off from yours. Your mother lives fifteen minutes away and you haven’t seen her in years. And why? Because seeing her reminds you of me and our time together. So, to save yourself some pain you inflict that pain on everyone else who loves you.

“I always knew you to be a man of courage, strong and unafraid to do the right thing. But for the last six years you have been running and hiding from everything that is important in this world.”

“But its all for you, for the both of you. I can’t let you go. If I do, I’m afraid that I’ll forget you.”

“Luco Reyes, I am ashamed of you. If I could, I would slap your face. You are using our memory as an excuse to avoid life. The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing and that’s what you have chosen.

“If you want to die a lonely and bitter old man, go ahead, but don’t you dare say that you are doing it for me and Regalito. Shame on you.”

Luco moaned as the memory of his wife scolded him. More passers-by were noticing and avoiding him. He sat there, replaying her words over in his mind, trying to come to grips with this personal chastisement from the deepest part of his soul. His exhaustion was complete.

“What do you want me to do Alicia? I’m too tired to go on with this.”

This time the voice was a whisper, comforting and healing, but still forceful.

“Luco, I want you to go home and get some sleep. And then I want you to take the books of poems you wrote for me and get rid of them.”

“No!”

“Yes. Burn them, bury them, throw them off the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t care. When you do that I’ll know that you’ll be all right.

“I want you to be happy, not eaten up inside like you are now. And then, after you get rid of the poems I want you to find someone, fall in love and get married. Luco, you are a man who needs to be married.”

Behind his closed eyelids he could feel the burn of a bright light washing over him.

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One

Marlee nodded and squeezed his hand, but said nothing.

“And all I could do was watch.”

She was still silent. She was not going to be satisfied with a synopsis, he realized. It was all or nothing and it was too late for ‘nothing.’

“How long were you together?” She was taking him back to Square One.

“Alicia and I met when we were 14. She walked into the classroom and I was in love. That was it, for me anyway. It took her a couple of years to come around.” He smiled at the memory.

“I wanted us to get married as soon as we were out of school. Of course, both families were dead set against it. Alicia was too. She was determined to get an education.

“She wanted to be a nurse. It was all she ever really wanted. Alicia was going to go after her dream and I was not it. If I wanted to be with her I was going to have to wait. So, I waited. While she went to San Francisco State, I went and took some classes at City College and played in a band on weekends. “

“What do you play?”

“Did play. Guitar. We were pretty good. We had two names. When we played a gig in the Mission or someplace Latino we were ‘Besame’ and when we got booked in some rock and roll club we used the English translation of ‘Besame’: ‘Kiss Me.’

“Anyway, Alicia did it. She got her degree in Nursing, with honors and I got an AA degree in waiting, but it was the right thing to do and worth it all.”

“Tell me about your wedding.”

Luco smiled and Marlee let go of his hands. She could see that he needed them free to talk, words alone weren’t enough.

“Our wedding was…spectacular. All of our friends and families were there. About twenty of her classmates from “State” came, as did a bunch of my buddies from City College.

“We were married at Mission Dolores. We had to reserve the church a year and a half ahead of time. The priest who had baptized us both, Father Castillo, married us.

It was just so beautiful. On the invitations we asked everyone to bring some flowers from their gardens or backyards. The altar was overflowing with Lavender, Hibiscus, Shasta Daisies, low carpets of pansies and spears of Giant Sunflowers that, I swear, seemed to be straining to reach the gilded vault of the church. As Alicia came down the aisle our friends handed her flowers. When she reached the front of the aisle her Mother had a ribbon and tied the flowers together to make her bouquet. It was beautiful. The scent of Jasmine and Honeysuckle was everywhere.

“By the time Alicia and I kissed, everyone was crying. I’ve never heard of a wedding getting a standing ovation, but ours did.”

Marlee had to wipe her eyes.

“The band I was in worked a lot and I put aside every penny for the wedding and reception. We rented one of the big dance clubs in the Mission and we all partied until we dropped. There was enough food for an army and the music was almost non-stop. To save time and trouble we invited everyone who lived within complaining distance and I, personally, delivered invitations to the Police Station.

“The reception went on until the next morning. It was a total joy, no problems at all. Of course I thought to hire a few of my Samoan pals to work the door. Nobody messes with Samoans.” He could see a quizzical look on Marlee’s face.

“Each of the guys was big enough to have his own ZIP Code.

“Alicia and I danced. We were so in love it was silly. We went to Disneyland for our honeymoon. You have to visit there someday.”

Now that he had started it was pouring out of him.

“Alicia was able to get work at SF General Hospital. It was only a few blocks from our apartment. I got a job with PG&E, reading gas meters.”

His smile faded and the animation left his voice as he continued.

“It was all we had dreamed of for four years and now we had it all spread out in front of us. I was still playing with ‘Besame’ a lot and Alicia took up painting. She found she had a talent for it. It relaxed her. Our life together was good. Marriage felt so ‘right.’ I don’t think I can express it to you.”

“You’re doing it beautifully. Go on.”

“Alicia worked in the Emergency Room, a very busy place.

“One Friday night she was on the graveyard shift. The Police and Paramedics were bringing someone through the doors every few minutes – gangbangers, junkies and other O.D.s, a few plain old sick people and all kinds of head cases.

“She was part of a team working on some speed freak who felt that he had cockroaches swimming in his bloodstream. He had tried to cut them out with a butcher knife. He was bleeding from everywhere when they brought him in. He was screaming to be left alone.

“Alicia was trying to get a blood sample for typing. She stuck him and, somehow he got a hand free and punched her in the face. She just got up off the floor and went back to the table. The guy pulled the syringe out of his arm and stabbed Alicia in the neck with the needle. An orderly slugged the guy and knocked him out. All of this happened in just a couple of seconds.

“Alicia pulled the syringe out of her neck and started to go get another syringe, to do her job. One of the doctors and another nurse pulled her aside to examine her.

“The needle had punctured an artery and their immediate concern was that air may have been injected into the artery and was now racing through her bloodstream.

“She was aware of her peril, but she kept her cool as an EEG was set up to monitor her brain activity. Blood thinning drugs were pumped into her to, hopefully, reduce the risk of a stroke. Alicia was able to alert the doctor to anything that she was feeling, any potential symptom of trouble. She gave them a calm and professional account of her possible imminent death.

“On the other table the main team worked to save the bastard who stabbed my wife. He died and I’m glad.

“They saved Alicia. There was no air bubble in her blood. She came home and told me what happened. It was the first time I had ever seen her scared like that. Then she told me that the danger wasn’t over.

“Oh, God, those next few weeks were the worst Hell I could have imagined.

“The dead pig that attacked her was HIV Positive. The next day Alicia went in and her blood was drawn for testing. They told us that even if the results came back Negative that she should be tested again regularly for the next six months. It can take time for the virus to show up in testing.

“They started Alicia on a medication regimen. She was taking all kinds of pills. Those HIV drugs are powerful and have some terrible side effects. Her hair began to fall out; she either couldn’t sleep at all or slept around the clock. On top of all that, the animal that caused this also had Hepatitis and she had to take drugs for that.

“A month or so later, after the third HIV test, they told us that she was testing Positive for the virus. There was no doubt.”

“Oh, Luco, I am so sorry.”

“That worthless piece of garbage killed my wife. We were married a little over a year and she was dying.

“That last set of blood screenings also told us that Alicia was pregnant. We wanted to start a family. We prayed for a family. Was this how God answered our prayers?

“The doctors wanted her to abort, but neither of us could do that – Not now, not our baby. Our baby, in the middle of all this madness.”

He wiped away the fresh tears that ran down his cheeks. Marlee handed him a paper napkin. Silently, her heart was breaking for this anguished man.

“To protect our baby, Alicia chose to cut back on some of the AIDS medications. The health and safety of our child became the primary focus. I had to help her choose.

“The pregnancy was very hard on her. The physical part was hard enough, but the psychological side was just as bad. There was anger, hatred even, fear like you can’t imagine, and a sorrow that made our life into a dark room, literally.

“Alicia was at home, but I still had to work. When I would come home she would be sitting in the rocking chair with all the lights off and the shades drawn. It was like a tomb.

“Before all of this we used to joke about her being pregnant and having funny food cravings. You know, the pickles and ice cream thing. She only craved one thing. She asked me to write poems and read them to her. I didn’t know what to do. The only things I ever wrote were a few songs for the band. It would have been a stretch to call them poems. But Alicia begged me and so, I wrote poems for her.

“I would write them in a notebook over coffee or at lunch and read them to her when I got home. I still do it. My poems are a way of keeping a connection with her alive.

“As the pregnancy continued, Alicia began to lose weight rapidly. The doctors were afraid she and our baby might not make it to full term.

“At twenty-eight weeks they did a C-Section. It was awful. Alicia almost died and our baby was a little over two pounds. They wouldn’t let me in the room for the delivery. When I saw him in the incubator he was so small. He didn’t look real. He was ‘Positive’ too.

“Alicia was tough and she insisted on seeing her son. As soon as they let me I put her in a wheelchair and pushed her to meet her baby boy. She cried and laughed at the same time as she put her hand into the incubator to touch him.

“The name tag on his incubator just said ‘Infant Reyes.’ We had picked out a name months before. Father Castillo, who had married us, came to the hospital and we had a baptism there in the ICU. We named our son ‘Regalito.’”

“That’s very pretty,” said Marlee.

“It means ‘Little Gift,’ and that he was.

“After Regalito was born and baptized I think that Alicia was just worn out. The doctors said it was an ‘opportunistic infection’, but I think she just couldn’t take any more.

“I begged her not to leave us. She died when Regalito was a month old. She died in my arms – my helpless, weak and useless arms.

“When she died, Regalito knew. Babies always want to be with their Mothers. Two days later his kidneys failed and he died inside that glass box.”

Luco paused and took a slow sip of water. He was exhausted.

“We had the funerals at Mission Dolores. Everybody brought flowers again.”

There’s Always Something New

DRONES – THERE ARE A NUMBER OF DIFFERING DEFINITIONS of that word. Some are nouns, others are verbs, and others just a pain in the neck. Then there are some that kind of slop over from one category to another.

To Drone: To speak endlessly in a monotone voice with no apparent effect other than to induce sleep. Usually done by politicians and…No, that’s pretty much it.

“What’s causing that Drone?” – A Scottish Bagpipe Band must be nearby. Either that or it’s “Here come the Killer Bees!” (Pointless Aside: I went to school with a fellow who got a full-ride college scholarship because he could play the bagpipes. I could play Yahtzee, but I got nothing.)

“Oh, look! There is a Drone flying over our house! Hand me the rifle.”

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty

STARTING FROM OPPOSITE ENDS OF HAIGHT STREET, Marlee and Luco began to move toward their first meeting on neutral territory. Marlee stopped to look at the lizards in the shop window. She didn’t want to get there first. Let him stand there for a few minutes and wonder if he’d been stood up. She smiled at the thought of the ever-confident Luco standing on the sidewalk, pacing back and forth, impatient and frustrated. Sure, it was a bit cruel, but if he was like every other man, she thought, it would do him some good to cool his heels.

Luco closed his front door and turned left, away from Haight Street. He was so anxious that he was leaving much too early. As he walked around the block to kill some time he talked out loud to himself.

“I’m leaving too early. What’s with me? I don’t want to get there early and have to cool my heels. I hate that. Women never show up early. They always run late. If I was paranoid I’d think they did it on purpose, just to play with our minds.”

Marlee walked past the People’s Cafe. She saw that there was someone new behind the counter – a short strawberry blonde with a figure that proved there is a God. Even through the window Marlee could see that young Paolo, the busboy, was already in love.

Across the street, Mom’s Body Shop was lit up like a Christmas tree. A newly satisfied customer was standing out in front showing off his new tattoos to some other young men. He seemed very happy, but his knees were wobbly and his eyes were shiny. Perhaps getting the “USMC” on his arm would have been enough, Marlee surmised. The screaming eagle was just too many needle pricks for one sitting, even for a new Marine.

Marlee’s smile melted as she looked past the young man who was in need of a few beers to numb the pain. Just coming out of the shop was a familiar face. Looking very serious and buttoning his shirt cuffs, was Dennis Thayer. He looked to his right and left, but never saw Marlee on the far side of the street. He started down Haight in the same direction as Marlee. She lagged a bit to let him get ahead of her. She was still unnerved a bit about his behavior during her brunch. She didn’t want to have to deal with him. Not tonight and not on the street. Tonight was for positive thoughts and warm feelings. He could wait for another day.

Luco stalled as long as he could. Two times around the block and a stop for a quick espresso at a new place over on Waller Street and he was still there early. Marlee was not in sight. The jolt of caffeine from the espresso was adding to his nervousness. He patted his handkerchief at his upper lip.

He poked his head inside the door of Martin Macks.

“Hey, Mary Margaret, has anyone come in here looking for me?” A quartet of slender feminine hands went up into the air, just hoping.

“Hi, Luco,” answered the bartender. “Nobody tonight, unless you want to count the four furies here.”

One of the women at the bar leaned back on her stool, blew him a kiss and licked her lips.

“Evening, Susie. Say hello to Michael and the kids for me.”

He went back to the sidewalk and looked once again for his tardy dinner companion. Instead of Marlee he saw a man walking up the street toward him with a purposeful stride. As he approached the bar the man saw Luco and glared at him.

“Good Evening, Dennis.” Luco put on a cordial smile that wasn’t fooling anybody. He didn’t care.

“Kiss my ass, Reyes.”

“No thanks, Dennis. I’m cutting back on candy.”

Dennis Thayer never stopped walking, but turned his face to Luco. “Some day, Reyes…some day.”

“Yeah, right. Some day your prince will come.”

Dennis kept walking and at the next corner, turned and slowly headed down the hill toward the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

“You know him, Luco?” It was Marlee. She had crossed the street when she saw Dennis turn the corner.

“Marlee. Hi, there. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show up.”

“I wouldn’t stand you up. Do you know that man with the curly blonde hair?”

“Oh, yeah. We’ve met.”

“He’s my neighbor. His name is Dennis Thayer.”

“Your neighbor? I know its none of my business, but he’s a bad egg. Nuts, if you ask me. Be careful.”

“I can handle him. How do you know him?”

“He came into the cafe once, stinking drunk and got physical with a tourist. I had to throw him out. He’s 86’d from the place and he holds me responsible.

“Look, enough about him. Miss, would you allow me to escort you inside this fine establishment for some dinner, a beverage or two and some scintillating conversation?”

“Oh, Lord, the man is charming. Sweaty, but charming,” she thought.

“Why, thank you kind stranger. I’d love to join you for dinner.”

“Oh, my she is enchanting,” he thought. “A bit overdressed for the occasion, but enchanting.”

He pulled open the large wooden door and ushered her through, into a place filled with twinkling lights, twinkling people and an irreverent attitude toward all things non-Irish.

At the corner, Dennis Thayer peeked around the edge of the dress shop. He watched Luco hold open the door for Marlee as they went inside.

To get to the dining room they had to run the gauntlet past the bar. The bar was filled, as usual, with people who knew Luco.

“Hi, Luco. Michael says ‘Hi’ and the kids want to know when their Daddy is coming home.”

“Hey, Luco. I see the restraining orders have been lifted.”

“Luco, my love. Rest easy. The test came back negative.”

Throughout this thousand mile walk, Luco kept his eyes focused forward and used his handkerchief to keep the sweat under control. Marlee had a slight smile on her face the entire time.

At long last they reached the end of the bar and Marlee turned to look at Luco. “I’d hate to think what they’d say if they didn’t like you.”

“Me too.”

The hostess picked up two menus and turned to escort them to one of the old wooden banquettes along the wall. As they entered the Dining room Luco turned and looked back over his shoulder. Everyone at the bar had their glasses raised in salute. He smiled and turned back to catch up to the two women. They went to the back booth, the most private.

A waitress took their drink order to the bar and quickly returned with a white wine for Marlee and a Guinness for Luco. The Guinness was as black as night with a thick, sand colored head of foam. Her wine was a California White Zinfandel, grown and pressed not an hours drive away from the lips where now it rested. They exchanged pleasantries about their days activities while they perused the Dinner menu.

“Where’s your infamous ‘Toad In The Hole’, Luco? I don’t see it on the menu.”

A second waitress walked by just as Marlee asked her question and tossed out an answer.

“The pond dried up. Try the lamb.”

“They have a friendly staff.” Luco smiled, things were going… so far, so adequate.

Marlee took the advice of the waitress and ordered the Roast Lamb with Vegetables. Luco settled on the Fish and Chips.

Taking a sip of her wine, Marlee looked at him over the rim of the glass.

“Luco, Why did you ask me out? You don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“That’s true, but I could tell right away that you were an interesting, intelligent person. As for you not knowing me? Why did you say ‘yes’?”

“Honestly? I said yes because, when you asked me, you did it so badly that I thought you were terribly inept.”

“What? Well, I…”

“And, you were so cute. That’s it, honest.”

“So, this is a ‘Mercy Date’? You’re here because you feel sorry for me?”

“No! No, I didn’t mean that at all. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. Oh, Dear Lord. Luco I said ‘yes’ because you are a charming man, obviously well liked by both men and women, and…you’re the first man who has asked me out on a date in about 6 years.”

“Six years? You haven’t been in prison, have you?”

“No, of course not. Prison?” She saw that he was smiling and it made her smile in return.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?”

The waitress came to the booth holding two steaming plates. The lamb was tender and well done, not pink and covered with a cloying mint jelly. It was anointed with a light vinaigrette sauce where bruised mint leaves provided just a suggestion of welcome sweetness. The vegetables, new red potatoes and carrots were seasoned with thyme and rosemary. They also benefited from the tangy sauce. The Fish and Chips overflowed the plate with three large pieces of cod in a beer batter that puffed up and offered a crunchy bite on the way down to the white and flaky fillets. The chips were fresh cut and fried slices of Yukon Gold potatoes. It doesn’t get any better.

For the next five minutes the only sounds were words of praise to the chef for his work and prayers to God asking His grace upon the man in the kitchen.

After the initial stunned reaction to the food had subsided, Luco set down his fork and took a long drink from the pint glass.

“So, Marlee, why am I the first man to ask you out in six years? We can eliminate prison, right?”

She nodded as she dabbed her napkin at the corner of her mouth.

“Yes, we can eliminate prison. I’m a widow. I haven’t said that out loud very often.”

“Oh, Marlee, I’m so sorry. I should not have asked.”

“Well, I came here to San Francisco to start a new life and today, not two hours ago, it finally dawned on me that the time was truly right for me to get on with it. Luco, you are witness to my rebirth, as it were.”

“How long ago…?”

“Just about two years.”

The waitress came over to check on her station and got them refills on the wine and Guinness.

For the next forty-five minutes Luco listened as Marlee recounted the story of life and death that brought her to this booth in an Irish pub on Haight Street. She told him details she thought that she had forgotten. Little things, both loving and horrifying.

Several times in the telling she broke down and cried. Luco reached out and held her hand, not knowing what else to do. When she told him of her dream of walking on the beach Luco lowered his eyes as a tear ran down his cheek. His face reddened as he fought for control.

Marlee could see that his tears were not for her, but came from inside his own deep, personal wounds. She reached out and cradled his hands in hers.

The waitresses could see all of this and left them alone. This was a private mourning. The other booths were long empty, the diners having moved on to other, gayer pursuits. There was no rush.

“Luco, what are you carrying inside you? What is it?”

She gently massaged his large, masculine hands. Her touch helped him to lower the flame under the boiling pot of his emotions.

“Marlee, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. That’s never happened before. I’m not the kind of man who gets emotional in public. Your story was so… horrible is the only word I can think of.”

“No need to apologize for being human, Luco. But your tears had nothing to do with me or my story. They came from inside of you. You’re being eaten up from inside.”

“You must think I’m crazy.”

“No, but you’re headed that way.”

He lowered his head and rubbed his eyelids with his fingertips and sighed. He was trying to regain control of his emotions. She recognized what he was doing. She had done it many times herself and wasn’t going to let him shut her out.

“Luco, you sat there for 45 minutes and held my hand while I cried and told you about the worst part of my life. That was the act of a good man and a good friend. Please, let me be a friend to you. Luco, tell me what it is that has you in this prison.

She looked at him, his face still composing itself into a mask of passivity and control. His eyes betrayed him. They were locked on the tabletop. He was reluctant to make eye contact, afraid that…afraid of what? She had opened her life to him She had the courage to let him see her blood soaked memories.

She held his hands firmly, yet with a gentleness that let him know that she cared, could handle whatever he revealed to her and that she could and would understand.

He slowly lifted his eyes and looked at her. Marlee’s eyes were red and still shiny from her own tears. Pale blonde hair spilled forward and framed her face, shutting out everything except what was directly in front of her. Luco could see that he was the total focus of her world at that moment. Nothing else was important. Nothing else mattered. He looked into her eyes and took a deep breath.

“I lost my wife and child a little over six years ago, just before Christmas.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Nineteen

 

In The Haight it is only the early morning hours that belong to the Locals. After 10 AM it is the Tourists who fuel life on the street.

Throughout the day, tour buses pull up and disgorge the packaged groups that move like vacuum cleaners up and down from Central Street to Stanyan, sucking up T-shirts, jewelry and pizza slices, seeing all of the people as a tableau. The tourists stay until the clock dictates a mass migration to Chinatown, North Beach, or Fisherman’s Wharf, where it all begins again.

After the sun goes down the whole vibration of the street changes. The young music-seeking crowd hikes, bikes or drives up the hill and gathers at the clubs and bars. They come also to see and be seen, all the while actively pretending not to care about either.

The Locals and the ambulatory drug slaves also appear after dark. The Locals come out for a nice dinner and to toss back a few drinks. The druggies come out because they think it’s safer. They’re wrong.

It is also in the chilly evening that the costume party begins. After sundown, the hair gel and steel-studded wardrobes make an entrance. On a Saturday night on Haight there will be legions of “Blade Runner” fashion extras on the move. You might also meet several reincarnations of “Marilyn” and even a “Travis Bickel” or two.

In San Francisco the under 30 population is divided, roughly, into two groups. There are those who sashay through the city screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” while the other half struts around snarling, “What are you looking at?”

The folks over 30 tend to just go on with their lives, occasionally snickering to themselves. They already understood that, “If you dress up like a monkey, please don’t pretend to be surprised when people throw peanuts at you.”

Clothes are very important on Haight Street. Going all the way back to the blood and guts days of the late 1960s how you dressed determined who you were, your philosophy and how you were expected to behave. The Haight has always followed along with an “Us vs. Them” school of fashion.

Still today the younger visitors to the area feel obligated to dress up in a way designed, they think, to piss off the Old Man and reduce Momma to tears. Of course, at the end of their evening of being “Us” they will safely return to the fashionable bosom of an Old Navy focused “Them.”

There is, and always has been, a sliver of the Society that is actively outside the widespread embrace of both “Us” and “Them.”

Weaving in and out between the bulk of the population are the true Outlaws. In The Haight these people are the drug suppliers and their customers. It is a very short and brutish food chain. One feeds upon the other without mercy, on a strict cash and carry basis.

The dealers tend to costume themselves like the club crowd. The users rapidly get to the point where their wardrobe selection gives way to the more basic choices of life or death. With rare exceptions, they choose death, by their own hand or by the actions of someone else.

Set in the middle of the hectic bustle of Haight Street, leafy shadows played upon the dark green exterior of Martin Macks Irish Bar and Restaurant. It seemed out of place. It was not there to attract the young hipster crowd or the tourist throngs. It welcomed whoever grabbed the sturdy brass door pulls and ventured into the dimly lit space beyond. One’s social group was never a matter of concern at Martin Macks.

The long bar was always crowded. Some were there for a taste of their favorite brew. Others, intent upon the several European soccer matches being played out on the large televisions placed high on the walls around the pub.

There is a special bar menu that allows a hungry patron to sit on a barstool and select a variety of fried and crunchy items, barbequed spare ribs or a traditional Irish breakfast of Irish bacon, two types of sausage, eggs, tomatoes and Irish soda Bread.

 The breakfast is served until 3:30 in the afternoon in deference to late risers and the survivors of last night.

Luco, along with a fair number of people who work on the street, often dropped into Martin Macks for a quick lunch or a midafternoon pick-me-up.

At the far end of the bar, through a small latticework arch is the dining area. It holds a half dozen semicircular wooden booths and a handful of intimate tables.

The clever chef working in the open kitchen always offers an eclectic menu of Irish, English and American favorites. At night, when the bar is crowded to overflowing, diners in the back can escape the noise and enjoy quiet conversation and some of the best food in San Francisco.

Martin Macks was a popular place for dinner dates. They had good food, generous drinks and waitresses who let couples linger over coffee.

Luco was not used to shaving twice in one day. The skin on his neck was complaining loudly. In the six years he had worked at the People’s Cafe he had gone out with very few women. Some were co-workers, most were customers. All of them felt that he was “the stuff that dreams are made of.” They were right, at least for a night or two. Most of them were looking for “Mr. Right,” but he was only interested in being their “Mr. Right Now.” Their fantasies dried faster than the sheets.

While they were wanting more, Luco was unable to give it to them. Fleeting pleasure was all he could offer or accept. The depth of his ability to commit could be measured in their throaty prayers to a temporary heaven.

Most of the women could live with that. Some could not and so there were mornings when the corner tables at the cafe were taken by women whose eyes followed Luco from across the room and in whose hearts they nursed a barren hope.

This night, however, it was Luco who was feeling the gnawing of lost love. There was, as well, a fresh anticipation. He was nervous about a simple dinner date.

He wondered out loud why tonight felt different. What was it that was making him feel on edge? Was it the word “date” that set off the warning flares?

“I haven’t felt like this in years. For crying out loud, why am I sweating like this?” He took a towel and wiped his forehead and hands again.

What was it about this woman? Attractive? That she was, pretty even, very pretty in her own way. But there had been prettier.

Sexy? She was that, in a relaxed way. It was like she knew that she had the goods, but didn’t feel the need to hang it out like an ad. She had the indefinable “It” that sent out the message. The man in her bed would be in no hurry to roll over and go to sleep.

Smart? No doubt. Spend five minutes with her and you knew that she was educated and as sharp as they come.

Marlee had all of these things, he recognized, but there was also something else that set her apart. A something that was making him sweat.

When he was with her he felt a resonance, a faint emotional echo. There was something about her that played a responsive string in him. Time with her had an almost musical quality.

A quick glance at his wristwatch told him that it was time to stop daydreaming and get moving.

He used the straight razor to deftly finish shaving the hilly contours of his face and cut the few whiskers that always hid out in the cleft on his chin. A few quick strokes and he wiped the last few bits of foam from his face. With a sour look he bit the bullet and splashed on a few drops of Lagerfeld lemon scented aftershave lotion. “Something this expensive shouldn’t hurt so much,” he thought, as every nerve on his face swore revenge.

He riffed through his small closet and decided that basic black was always good. He chose a black ribbed mock turtleneck sweater and black slacks. It would be comfortable and, while complimenting his complexion and eyes, it would not compete with whatever Marlee would be wearing. He knew that the man is really just background for the woman. He trimmed a wayward eyebrow hair.

Less than a mile away Marlee was standing in front of her closet weighing the pros and cons of each item. The silk from Nordstrom was too dressy, the black suit was too “widow.” She decided that the double-breasted blazer made her look like a prison guard at Disneyland. It was hopeless she concluded.

“What does he really mean by “casual” anyway?” “Casual” in Cleveland was apparently different from “casual” in California. If she was to judge by what she had seen walking down Haight Street, “casual” might mean a tie-dye halter top and chrome plated tool belt.

She sat down on her bed and stared at the closet. “I have nothing to wear.”

After 10 minutes of mental mixing and matching she selected a turquoise knit top, a matching linen jacket and white slacks. “This is my idea of ‘casual’ for a dinner date. Let’s hope for the best.”

There was that word again: date. It was a date, no matter what else she called it. She was looking forward to it, but underneath there was a faint shadow of guilt.

It had been almost exactly two years since she became a widow and more than six since she had been on any kind of date. She still saw herself, emotionally, as a married woman and there was a nagging voice saying that she was cheating on her husband. It was her own voice she knew, and that she was wrong. It was time, coldly put, to get over it.

Intellectually as well, she knew that it was time. Her family had told her so. Her friends had also told her the same thing. Hadn’t she uprooted herself and moved across the continent to begin again? She also believed that her dream of the mirror on the beach was Phillip’s way of telling her to throw off her widow’s weeds and get on with her life.

“This is stupid. I’m young, talented, not hard on the eyes, and a very nice and very handsome man has asked me out to dinner. Screw the guilt.”

She opened the closet door again, took the black suit off the hanger, brushed a bit of lint from the lapel, walked into the kitchen and stuffed it into the trash container under the sink. There would be no more funerals.

”Now, let’s just see what ‘casual’ means to this man.”

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Eighteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Eighteen

Moving is an exhausting exercise, no matter how little you have and boxes of books always seem to be the last things put away. Now the books were on the shelves. For Marlee, there was only one more thing that needed seeing to: her music.

Music had always been her special, personal refuge. As a child it hid the sound of her parents arguing. As a teen it allowed her to wallow in the lush angst of adolescence. Later it was a way to express her loves and losses. The fact that she had a gift for it made it a pleasure for everyone around her.

When she was a child she had first studied the piano, but it seemed rigid and dwarfed her at the bench. Then came the violin, clarinet and for a few months in Middle School, the alto saxophone. She was taken with its quality, so much like the human voice.

It wasn’t until “band camp” in the summer before 10th grade that she was introduced to the cello. The first time she embraced the honey-colored wood and inhaled the aroma of the sweat and tears left there by those who had held it before, she knew that she was in love and ready to commit.

It was during high school that the extent of her talent became apparent and the encouragement and excitement of her teacher lit the fire in her belly, Music grew from a private hideaway into a transmitter for her creative thought. Her hopes, fears, loves and hates radiated from her fingertips in a melodic frenzy.

The sophomore year flew by in a blur of overheated practice rooms, rehearsals and string quartets. Her talent had found a home and she, a faithful lover who never disappointed. She soon left the quartets behind, as her skills demanded the soloist’s chair.

It wasn’t long before magazines and newspapers discovered the pretty young demon that seemed to wrestle the music from wood and string. They ran stories calling her a “Genius” and “The next Pablo Casals.”

One piece in a Sunday supplement magazine dubbed her the “Concert Hall Barbie.” That offensive diminutive earned a letter demanding an apology. It never came.

Marlee understood the flattering hyperbole and the nonsense of publicity. With the ego-bubble bursting help of her family and her teacher, she learned to keep her perspective and her focus. At her age, that focus was on honing her skills and on selecting the right college.

Universities and colleges around the country always send out small armies of talent scouts, crisscrossing the map. They are looking for more than Quarterbacks and Power Forwards. They also try to uncover and woo young actors, computer whizzes, and promising musicians.

She was recruited by a number of large and prestigious schools, known for producing successful concert musicians. Scholarships were dangled like golden carrots in front of her eyes. The lures of bright lights and faraway places pulled at her.

In the end, she opted to stay in Cleveland, at home, and she accepted the offer of a small Methodist college in the city’s western suburbs.

The school was well respected nationally for its academic standards as well as for the vitality of the under-funded, but first-rate Conservatory of Music.

For all her abilities, drive and onstage self-assurance, she was still a seventeen year old girl who never found the time to develop adolescent crushes and who performed brilliantly at her senior prom, but went home alone when the dancing began.

She had heard an ancient Chinese proverb from her High School band teacher. He was aware that he was passing a real talent on to other teachers at the college level. He knew that there was more for her to learn than he could teach her. Marlee was sad to be leaving his tutelage, but she was feeling the hunger for the next step and was comforted by the relevance of the proverb.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Life at the small college was comfortable, yet challenging. She was thrown together with the best of the best and a scintillating mixture of people from around the country and from overseas. She learned to make friends with people so different from herself that she sometimes felt like she was spending her days on another planet. New social expectations, languages, and points of view were in her face everyday. She quickly got past the culture shock of it all and realized that her new teacher had, indeed, appeared, in the form of the college experience.

This new spice in her life made itself known in her music as well. The other students were her equals, or betters and the Instructors made no allowance for pretty blonde teenagers. She was forced to work hard to keep up. The Music had become difficult.

New techniques, new music and new demands on her time and body made her think of quitting, but the thought of leaving her cello behind ended that afternoon of self-pity.

There was a growing sense of domination in her playing. She no longer forced the music from the cello. Instead she commanded it to, “Arise and walk!” It took her took another level, where she was again moving toward center stage.

Her parents noticed the growth in their daughter. They could see her becoming more confident, daring even, in the pursuit of her goals. In High School she had led an insulated life, buffered by her music. In college, that buffer didn’t work and she had to learn about real life and people. Dead composers and musicians could no longer be her only friends.

Her mother and father also saw their only child becoming a grown woman with a delicate beauty and an effortless sensuality. It was a part of life that Marlee had yet to discover.

Marlee’s allure may have been transparent to her, but there were a lot of testosterone fueled college boys who had watched her walking across campus, moving to the music in her head. The tall, quiet blonde was high on the list of favorite topics among the junior varsity football squad, and a staple in the fantasy life of more than a few of the boys in the brass section.

During her junior year, the same year that she was named to “Who’s Who In America’s Universities And Colleges”, Marlee was attacked, just short of rape, by a boy who played the English Horn. He had seen Marlee working late in the practice rooms in the basement of the Student Union building.

The only thing that saved her from more serious harm was the intervention of several boys from the football team who were on their way to a basement screening room to watch a video of their last game. They saw what was happening and stopped the attack. In doing so they may have saved Marlee’s life. An Exacto knife was found in the horn player’s pocket.

Though traumatized and bruised, she was saved. Her attacker was brutally beaten. His hopes of a musical career were shattered, along with almost every bone in both hands and several others throughout his body.

In the aftermath, Marlee received counseling and signed up for a self-defense course. She was determined to not let this take away her dreams. The English Horn player was expelled from the school and involuntarily committed by his parents. Marlee was advised poorly by the family attorney and did not press charges. The basement practice rooms were put under video surveillance.

In the following academic quarter, one of the rescuing football players enrolled for a class in Music Appreciation in an effort to help his drooping Grade Point Average. At a mandatory recital he saw Marlee onstage and was enchanted, not only by her virtuosity.

After the recital he introduced himself and offered to escort her to her car. In the wake of Marlee’s assault, dozens of school athletes organized an informal escort program, protecting both male and female students at night.

“I appreciate this. I am still a bit nervous walking on campus after dark.”

“Well, people need to feel safe. I’m glad I can help.

“If…if you’re not in a rush or anything, would you like to stop by the Rathskeller for a Coke or something?” He blushed.

Over Coca-Cola and French fries in the campus snack bar Marlee and a young man named Phillip took the first tenuous steps toward a shared fate. He thought that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen and she thought that he was big…and cute, especially when he blushed and fumbled as he asked her out on a real date.

Her parents approved of Marlee’s beau. He was polite, thoughtful, hardworking to a fault, and it was evident, from the start, that he adored their daughter. At 6’5” tall and 270 pounds, he was the gentle giant who had saved their baby’s life.

Marlee’s senior year was another defining time. The other seniors were sending out audition tapes to orchestras around the world. Marlee was not. She was conflicted.

The thought of going off to Boston, Lisbon or Sydney to play the cello was exciting, but it would mean leaving behind her home, family and the strapping young man with whom she felt safe and truly loved. That she could not do.

So, she sent out one resume and tape to a local Post Office box in reply to an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

An enthusiastic letter in response to her tape and a perfunctory audition won her the lead chair position with a new organization: The Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. There was no assurance that there would ever be a second season for the group, but while it was there, she was their Star and she was able to be with Phillip.

It was no secret that the Less than Dean’s List accounting majors didn’t enjoy the mobility and caché of a cello virtuoso.

Phillip sent out more than 300 resumes. Four drew hopeful responses. He blushed and sputtered his way through the interviews. The lone job offer came from a Cleveland company owned by an alumnus of the college and a football fan. Phillip, desperate to not look desperate accepted the offer and became the new “Junior Assistant Accounts Payable Clerk” at the Borkovic Tool And Die Company.

They had waited until after graduation to talk marriage. He tried to bring it up, but he couldn’t locate the words. Sensing his discomfort, Marlee did it for him.

It was an early autumn afternoon, while her parents were at a Harvest Festival by the Lakeshore, that Marlee discovered something else for which she possessed center stage talent.

Marlee unleashed the erotic desires that made her thank the gods for the elastic thighs of a cellist.

They both knew the importance of practice and lost no opportunity. She brought home Ravel and, on the living room floor, Phillip finally learned the true meaning of Music Appreciation.

Their wedding was small, money was an issue, and they honeymooned at a Bed and Breakfast on Catawba Island in the middle of Lake Erie. It was enough.

Things went well for the young couple. She had her music and a microscopic salary from the Orchestra. Her husband was becoming a competent number cruncher and it looked like he might have an actual future at Borkovic Tool And Die.

She took on a few students to perk up the ledger page. She actually enjoyed tutoring young musicians. It made her appreciate the precision and reliability of a great composition.

Marlee and Phillip knew that they would never be rich, but that was all right, as long as they had each other. They held each other at night and dreamed the same dreams.

Life in Cleveland was happy. They made the plans of young people in love. Their families and friends said that they were a “perfect couple.” Imperfection seeks out perfection.

It was hot and muggy on the night of August the third, but the recital would be in an air-conditioned hall. One of Marlee’s students was doing his first solo and she had to be there. Phillip always accompanied her to her musical events and she went with him to the Browns games. They each shared in what was important to the other. On the night of August the third it all ended on a shady street in a “very good neighborhood” when a young lost and bewildered addict stepped out of the darkness and tore the world apart.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Seventeen

It was becoming a morning ritual for Marlee. She started off with a hot shower and dawdling through her ablutions, followed by the San Francisco Chronicle and coffee at The People’s Cafe. She was now a “regular.”

“Good morning, Marlee. Coffee?”

“Please, Luco and I think a scone this morning.”

Since that first day when Luco Reyes had flirted with her, they had developed a comfort zone. He still flirted a bit, but with more gentility and she let him. They both knew the unmarked boundaries.

If things weren’t busy in the cafe he would come and sit with her. She enjoyed his company and he found her both beautiful and interesting. Most of the women in his world were one or the other, but rarely both.

Marlee felt the same about him. Here was a man of obvious education and facility with people, yet he was spending fourteen hours a day pulling espressos in a neighborhood cafe. A cafe that he could run with his eyes shut, but where he was just another employee. There was more behind those gray eyes, a story worth telling. She was intrigued by this mysteriously secretive man. It had been a long time since she had felt anything for any man and now she found herself daydreaming about the man who made her coffee.

Marlee liked to leaf through the morning paper. She wanted to be informed and the crossword puzzle helped her get her brain in gear for the day.

On page two she saw an article that grabbed her eye.

“Serial Killer Stalks The Haight”

The story was that, over the last three months, six brutal murders had occurred in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The victims were all young male addicts living, and now dying on the streets.

She read the list of the dead young men, boys really. They were mostly 18 or 19 years old. The youngest was a 14-year-old runaway from Michigan.

“It’s a sad ending to lives unlived.”

“Yes it is.” He had her coffee and scone. “Do you have a minute, Luco?”

He sat down at the table. Let someone else make the coffee for a few minutes.

She looked very serious. This was not a time for flirtation. She waved her hand at the newspaper spread out in front of her.

“Who would do such a thing? It’s horrible. Doesn’t he know what something like this does to the families, the parents?” There were tears in the corners of her eyes.

“I don’t think the killer cares about the families of these kids. As to who would do this…?” His voice faded with a shrug of his shoulders.

Marlee took a sip of her coffee. Its steamy heat flushed her cheeks. “No matter what they do, the drugs, they don’t deserve to die like this – like animals on the street.”

“I have some friends who are cops, at the Park Station, just up the way. They’ve told me that this killer, this beast, did more than just kill these kids. He mutilated them, their faces.”

“Oh good Lord, they didn’t say anything about that in this article.”

“There is a lot that never makes it into the paper and I’m sure that some of the details from the other night won’t be made public either.”

“The other night?” She set down her cup.

“There was another one, number seven, right across the street from my place up on Stanyan, just inside the Park.”

“Can’t they catch this monster?”

“Good question. I hear that they really don’t have much to go on. He’s careful, quick and nobody can give them a description.”

“This is very scary. I guess there really is no such thing as a safe place.” She picked at the scone, but her appetite had been shoved aside.

“By and large, The Haight is pretty safe. The real residents don’t have too much serious trouble. Most of the bad stuff falls on the people wrapped up in the drug scene.

“Like any city, we have our share of hardcore drug users. They and the dealers seem to like this area. They tend to prey on each other and leave the bodies in the gutter. Then there are the ‘Narco-tourists’.”

“Narco-tourists?”

“That’s just my word for them – the people who come to The Haight looking for the drugs.

“The media keeps running quasi-fictional stories about the 1960’s and the ‘Summer of Love’. Some unhappy kid in Iowa watches his TV and sees a pretty girl dancing with flowers in her hair. He picks up and comes here looking for her and some adventure. It’s the kids from Iowa you see on the sidewalks looking like zombies. They’re also the people who end up surrounded by crime scene tape outside my window.”

Marlee nodded. The morning sun bounced off of her hair.

“My upstairs neighbor was saying pretty much the same thing to me. It’s so sad.”

One of the counter help, a tall girl with henna colored dreadlocks, called for Luco to pull two lattes and a Mocha Jolt. Someone needed extra caffeine this morning. She also wanted her morning whiff of Luco. She had her own needs.

He patted Marlee’s hand with an understanding affection and got up to leave her to think about what he had said and about the face behind the mask on Haight Street.

The carnage among the street kids was bringing back all of the stomach-wrenching memories of Phillip’s murder and how for two years she went through the motions of a normal life before making the move West.

The newspaper and Luco’s words made her feel that the horror had followed her from the elm tree lined streets of Cleveland all the way to the aromatic eucalyptus groves of San Francisco. She didn’t know if she could survive that again. She clutched her coffee cup with both hands and drank. The hot liquid warmed her chilled heart.

“You OK, Marlee?”

She looked up into Luco’s lovely eyes.

“No, Luco, I’m not. This whole thing has me very upset. I’m wondering if I made a mistake coming here to San Francisco.”

He sat down again and leaned forward across the table to hear her soft, sad voice.

“I’m wondering if my coming here was just running away from things you can’t outrun.” She closed her eyes and turned her face away from Luco’s eyes.

“I don’t think so. You don’t strike me as the type to run away from things.

“Marlee, You and I don’t know each other very well. You’re new here and I’m looked upon as a superficial sort of man. I know that you’ve heard the gossip.”

She looked at him, her eyes widening.

“Luco, are you hitting on me? You tell me a grisly story and then move in to comfort me?” There was a hint of anger growing in her voice. She was on the verge of slapping his face, right there in front of everyone in the cafe.

“No. No, Marlee. I’m not ‘hitting on you’, I swear.” He was alarmed at her reaction. “I’m just trying to talk with you, one person to another, but I’d like to do it for more than two minutes at a time.

“Maybe my timing does stink here, but…I’d just like to talk with you, over dinner perhaps, on neutral ground and get to know you better. That’s all.” He wiped his hand over his face. He was sweating he noticed. She noticed it too.

She listened and looked at him. He was serious. He wasn’t playing the “Coffee House Romeo.”

“Luco, I’m sorry I snapped at you. Yes, I’ve heard the gossip and it bothers me a bit.”

“The truth be told, Marlee, I start most of the gossip myself. It gives me a bit of a mystique. I’m local color for the tourists to talk about when they go home.” He paused and took a deep breath.

“Let me do this over again.” He was actually close to stammering like a schoolboy. “Marlee, what about dinner? Have you been to ‘Martin Macks’ up the street? It’s an Irish pub, but they serve good food there. It’s not fancy, but where else can you get ‘Toad In The Hole’ in San Francisco?”

“‘Toad In The Hole?’ I don’t even know what that is. It sounds disgusting.”

“Its just meat in a crusty sort of batter, English, I think. They also have other things. What do you think?”

She was smiling again. This man had that effect on her, she realized, and that couldn’t be a bad thing.

“Alright, I’ll have dinner with you Luco and if you want to have ‘Toad In The Hole’, I won’t object.”

“Wonderful, and thank you. Would Friday night be good for you? I get off at six o’clock. I could come by your place at 7:30.”

I’ll tell you what, Luco. Let’s meet at the restaurant. I’d feel more comfortable and it wouldn’t seem so much like a date. At least until I can sort out which bits of gossip about you might be just your attempts to please the tourists.” She was only half teasing him.

“Of course, whatever you need.”

Feeling proud of himself for following through, Luco went back to the counter and pulled the lever on the espresso machine with a little extra fervor. The redhead who was slicing bagels noticed the slight smile on his face and put two and two together.

Marlee sat and zipped through the crossword puzzle in ten minutes. She got a refill on her coffee from the redhead and wondered why her saucer was now filled with hot coffee as well. The redhead was usually neater.

Sitting and just musing on the day and its possibilities, Marlee looked across the street. A young, heavily tattooed man was pulling back the security gate in front of “Mom’s Body Shop”, a tattoo and piercing parlor.

He had barely gotten the front door unlocked and the “open” sign turned on when the first customer walked in.

The business day was starting on Haight Street.

Marlee finished her coffee and bussed her table. She turned to wave to Luco as she headed toward the door.

“Oh, Marlee, one more thing about Friday night.”

“What’s that, Luco?”

“Martin Macks…its casual dress.”

“I’ll leave the mink at home.”

Down, Boy! Down!

SOMEONE KINDLY INFORMED ME this morning that this month has been designated “National Dog Bite Prevention Month.”

Who knew? Nobody told me about it until today. More importantly, I’d like to know if anybody bothered to inform the dogs of the world about this.

I have never been bitten by a dog – other than the playful nips of puppies. To be truthful, I’ve suffered more bites from humans than I ever have from animals. I have been scratched by dogs, but that happened while the dogs were showing me how glad they were to see me. “

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Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Sixteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Sixteen

“Luco. Hi. What a nice surprise. What’s that man doing up on that pole?”

Without taking his eyes from hers, he answered.

“I’d say he’s about to do a half-gainer into the sidewalk.”

“I don’t think I want to see that.”

“No. Let’s not watch. Let me buy you a cool drink. It’s hot out here.”

Marlee had just finished an iced tea, but she didn’t decline his offer.

As they walked they alternated between long minutes of silence and moments when they talked on top of each other.

“Marlee, have you enjoyed the street fair, so far?”

“Yes, I have. I’m not sure that I quite understand it all, but it has been… fun.”

“Good. It can be a bit daunting the first time you experience it. Actually, this year’s fair is rather calm.”

“A man hanging from a light pole, ready to fall into the street, is calm?”

“Well…he hasn’t fallen yet.”

“That’s the standard measurement? If he doesn’t fall to his death, things are calm?”

“Pretty much, but this is The Haight, so the calibration may be a bit screwed to the weird side of the scale.”

“I’m picking up on that.”

Sensing that Marlee wasn’t sharing his blasé acceptance of The Haight’s laissez-faire attitude toward life and death, Luco changed the subject.

“Tell me, Marlee. Just about everyone in San Francisco is into the Arts: Music, Acting, Painting, and so on. What is your Art?”

“I’m a musician. I play the cello.”

“Really? Professionally or just for the beauty of it?”

“Both. I was with the Cleveland Chamber Music Orchestra. I haven’t really played since my move here. I miss it.”

“Have you auditioned anywhere yet? There must be someplace that can use a talented cellist?”

“I need to get back in shape before I audition for anything. The cello can sound really awful if you’re not in top form. I need a place to practice.”

“Hmmm…I know that there are spaces over here on Page Street, at the old Gumption Theater space. I know that they have practice rooms. A lot of rock and rollers use them.”

I wasn’t aware of that, thank you. It would be convenient.”

“I’m a good man to know in The Haight.”

“So I gather.”

“And, I know that Pete, the owner of the People’s Café wants to put on some live music a couple nights a week. Interested?”

“Sure. Why not? It might be fun. Thanks, Luco.”

They shared a relaxed smile.

“Marlee, have you had anything to eat yet?”

“No. Any recommendations for a newcomer like me?”

Actually Yes, Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ is the stuff that dreams are made of.”

“Dreams or heartburn nightmares?”

“He’s right over there.”

Luco lifted his hand, using the book of poetry as a pointer. Marlee recognized the cover.

“‘Sonnets From The Portuguese?’ I would never have guessed you to be a fan of Browning.”

“What? Oh, this? I bought this for a friend. It’s not really my style.”

“A friend? I’m sure she is.”

“Actually…,” started Luco, but a sharply accented voice cut him off.

“Luco, my old friend!”

Through a thick pall of white smoke arising from the collection of barbeque grills, Marlee could make out the portly figure of a man, red-faced and sweating.

“Luco, come here,” called out the smoky-eyed chef.

Cutting through the frenetic crowd, Luco, taking Marlee by the hand, guided them over to the busy food stand. They went around to the side, close to where Mike Koberski was keeping tabs on dozens of spicy sausages as they popped and hissed in the flames. Mike waved a large stainless steel barbecue fork in greeting.

“Hiya, Mike. How’s business?”

“Today will be a great day, nice and warm.” He eyed Marlee through the smoke. “How’s your day, Luco?”

“Just fine. Mike, This is Marlee Owens, a newcomer to the street and to the Fair.”

Mike smiled and nodded. A large drop of sweat fell from his chin and sizzled on the grill.

“Welcome, Marlee. I see you’ve already met the most eligible bachelor in The Haight.”

Marlee smiled back and shot a quick glance at Luco, who looked a bit embarrassed, even though he was laughing.

“Nice to meet you, Mike and I don’t think that Luco is all that eligible. I hear he’s going steady with himself.”

Mike roared.

“You’re OK, girl. Have a ‘basa, on me.”

One bite of Mike Koberski’s ‘Flame Kielbasa’ and Marlee felt homesick for Cleveland. Both Mike and Luco were taken aback watching Marlee down the sausage without blinking an eye. Most people had a cold beer on the side to douse the fiery spices.

“Mike,” said Marlee, wiping her mouth daintily, enjoying the astonished looks on the men’s faces. “That was great, but Luco said you had a ‘Flaming’ kielbasa that is supposed to be really hot.”

“That was it,” stammered Mike.

“Oh? Well…it was very nice. I’m from Cleveland and we’d call that a ‘mild’ kielbasa. Very nice. I’m sure the little kids love them.”

Mike and Luco looked at each other, not quite knowing what to say. Marlee stood there, smiling sweetly at them, enjoying their confusion.

“One more thing, Mike. Give me a beer. My mouth is on fire.”

He handed her a cup of Bud Light and she poured it down her throat, not stopping to breathe. Both men started to laugh. After finishing the beer Marlee coughed and wiped her eyes.

“I had you two guys going there for a minute, didn’t I? Jesus H., Mike. What do you put in those things, napalm?”

“Yep,” said Mike. “Not far from it. Old family recipe. A fine mix of spices that will make the kielbasa nice and hot or take the rust off of any chrome surface.”

Marlee took a paper napkin from the counter and wiped at her eyes.

“Well, Mike, if I can’t sleep tonight I’ll know who to blame.”

“No matter how chilly it gets tonight when the fog comes in, you’ll be warm and comfortable,” added Luco.

Mike reached out and grabbed Luco’s arm.

“Christ, I almost forgot. Luco, I was hoping I’d see you today. I need your help.”

“You got it. What can I do, Mike?”

Mike turned to Marlee who was beginning to lose the flush from her cheeks as the fiery spices subsided.

“Marlee, you like sports? Baseball?”

“Sure. Baseball is life. The rest is details.”

“Great. Luco, I got two tickets to the Giants game next Saturday. I can’t go. Some family thing my wife forgot to tell me about until last night, but maybe you and Marlee might like to go?”

He looked at Luco and then at Marlee, and back again at Luco. Feeling a bit cornered, Luco finally spoke.

“Well…it sounds good to me. What about it, Marlee? Care to see our beautiful ballpark?”

Her initial reaction was negative. She didn’t relish the idea of spending a whole afternoon with a man she perceived as a depressed lothario, but it was a public place and it had been quite a while since she had been to a big league game.

“Who are they playing?”

“The Cardinals. It’ll be a great game,” said Mike, reaching into his shirt pocket for the tickets.

Marlee let a smile out for some fresh air.

“All right, Luco. If you promise to be a gentleman, I’ll go with you to the game.”

Luco bowed to Marlee. “I will be such a gentleman that you won’t even recognize me.”

Mike handed a slim white envelope to Luco as he winked flirtatiously at Marlee.

“Here you go. Enjoy the game for me. I’ll be sitting in a lawn chair in San Jose, sweating like a pig and eating birthday cake.”

“Thank you, Mike,” said Luco, “And I promise to behave myself, Marlee. I won’t climb any light poles while we’re together.”

“You better not, Bucko, because I won’t catch you if you fall.”

“’Bucko?’” Luco looked at Mike who was trying to not laugh as he turned a grill full of sausages.

Despite all of her misgivings and alarm bells, Marlee had to admit that she was attracted to the dark-haired barista. There was something about him. Several somethings, in fact, that had her emotions caught in a small tug-of-war between her mind and her heart. She was drawn to him on a very basic, physical level, while at the same time there were things about him that told her to walk the other way.

That book of sonnets in his hand was obviously for some other woman. His glibness with female customers and their intimations of breathless, passionate liaisons bothered her.
But, she thought, nothing could be safer and noncommittal than a few hours inside a stadium filled with 40,000 screaming baseball fans. Any smooth moves there would be easily deflected amid the chaos and Cracker Jack.

After a Day to Remember, one filled with music, colors and new friends Marlee walked with the flow of people heading home. Her trek was thankfully only one block. The sensory indulgence was exhausting and she was grateful that her apartment was so close.

She checked her mailbox and slowly climbed the stairs up to her door…which was standing wide open. Her heart skipped a beat as she hurried up from the landing. There was no sound coming from inside the apartment. She moved slowly through the open door straining to hear anything or anyone. She had her keys bristling in her clenched fist. There was no one in her bathroom. A quick glance said the same for the kitchen. She could see that the living room was empty. That left just her bedroom and its closed door. The only sound she could hear were those rising up from the street just outside her windows. She rested her hand on the doorknob. On Haight Street a Diesel bus roared away from the bus stop as Marlee turned the knob and pushed open the door.

The bedroom was empty. There was nobody in her apartment, but she was cringing with the sensation that someone had been there. Nothing seemed to be missing. Everything was as she had left it just a few hours ago. It was all the same, but there was a difference. It wasn’t until two days later that she noticed that her copy of “Leaves of Grass,” the one she thought was missing, was in its place on her bookshelf.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fifteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fifteen

There was a lot of Fair yet to see and if the first few minutes were any indicator, Marlee thought, it was going to be a day she would never forget.

Falafel, enchiladas, kielbasa, satay, crepes, sauerbraten, they all called out to her senses, begging her to stop and sample the exotic flavors – sharp, subtle, sweet and biting. Aromas blossomed and vied for her attention as the street filled to overflowing with smiling people. Banners and flags lolled in the quiet air.

Marlee made a point to stop and peruse the goods at each booth, not wanting to miss anything as she worked her way up Haight Street.

Out in front of Mom’s Body Shop she got a washable tattoo to adorn her neck: a small black swan. For today, at least, Marlee could feel like a rebel.

At the mythical intersection of Haight and Ashbury a neighborhood garage band had set up their speakers, amps and mike stand. They didn’t have any permits and weren’t an official part of the Fair, but nobody really cared. They kicked that part of the street into high gear. The charismatic lead singer quickly gathered a gaggle of new young fans moving to the beat.

Just beyond this unofficial concert was a large flag adorned with a painting of a flying baby. It caught Marlee’s eye. The baby had wings and blue hair. She worked slowly across the intersection, trying to get close enough to see what the booth could possibly be selling.

While she was still “Pardon me”-ing and “Excuse me”-ing her way, she heard a loud female voice from up ahead.

“Yo! Marlee, Babe!”

Marlee was a bit taken aback at the familiarity of the greeting. She didn’t think she knew anyone that well yet, here in San Francisco.

“Marlee! Straight ahead, Sweetheart!”

Marlee plowed on, her pace a bit faster. She was uncomfortable hearing her name being yelled in the street by an unknown voice. Finally, she broke through the moving river of humanity and stood in front of the woman who was yelling for her.

“Marlee, Honey!”

It was Scar, the tattooed and pierced Madonna from Spider’s party. Perched high on Scar’s back, peeking out at Marlee was little Lucifer, smiling and drooling. His baby fine hair was worked into a bright blue Mohawk.

“Hi, Scar. How are you and how is this cutie pie?”

She wiggled her fingers at Lucifer. He grinned and two teeth were almost visible. He was teething on a piece of fabric.

“How ya likin’ the Fair, Toots? Havin’ fun?”

“Oh, it’s marvelous, Scar. What are you selling here?”

Scar leaned forward and pointed to the sign right above Marlee’s head.

“Robin’s Nest Baby Carriers. That’s what Lucifer is riding in. Cool, huh? I designed it myself. My real name is Robin.”

The baby carrier was more of a sling. A swath of fabric, at least nine feet long by Marlee’s estimation, draped and looped around Scar’s short frame. At the junction of three passes of cloth sat Lucifer, snug, secure and blowing saliva bubbles.

“They come in various lengths depending on the size of the Mother and of the little pisser.”

Marlee reached out and tickled Lucifer’s chin. He gurgled.

“Hello, Lucifer. How’s my little friend today?”

Scar looked back at her baby, her sky blue lips arched in a big smile.

“He is a cute one, ain’t he? I don’t know where he gets it. I’m really kind of plain under this rig and his father fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

“Well, Scar, I think you and Lucifer are just darling.”

“Yeah, real Norman Rockwell, ain’t we? So, tell me, girl – you havin’ a good time here in S.F.?”

Marlee’s eyes widened.

“Oh, wow, yes. I just danced in the street with a perfect stranger and it was….” She groped for the right word.

“The word is ‘Fun’, Marlee, and you need more of it. Kick your heels up and your knickers off a little more often, if you catch my drift.”

Marlee reddened.

Marlee never thought of herself as a prude. Not even close, but by the standards of some of the people she’d met recently, she was feeling like a cloistered nun.

She was a product of the Midwest. She had standards and a strong sense of right and wrong. Maybe it was acceptable for Scar to “kick off her knickers”, but it was still something special, sacred even, in Marlee’s heart.

It was close to two years since Marlee had buried her husband. Two years since she had felt a man in her arms and tasted a man’s skin.

She was still mourning her loss and still felt a “loyalty” to his memory. It was how she was raised, but it didn’t mean that there weren’t the yearnings. She had the primal desires to touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to possess and be completely possessed.

She missed the look in a lover’s eyes, urgent and intent. She ached for the feel of hands holding her in the dark, pulling her close. She lusted after the sound of a deep voice whispering in her ear, “I love you, Marlee.”

That was all missing from her life, but she knew that “kicking off her knickers” wouldn’t supply it.

Marlee was aware of her senses calling out for the raw ecstasy of uninhibited sexual love, but she also knew that what she really needed to fill was the hollowness in her heart.

This time, however, Marlee wanted a different kind of love than she had experienced with Phillip. Her mind had generated a checklist of what she needed and required of any man who would be considered for admission into her heart. She was a different woman than the one who had said ‘Yes” to a blushing and stammering Phillip years earlier and a continent away. She had loved Phillip, but it was an immature love – the love of a pair of 20 year-olds.

Now, after all she had been through and almost a decade, the first thing on her list for a new love was Maturity. When she was a girl, a boy had been right for her, but she was a Woman now and she needed – no, insisted, upon a Man.

Marlee had not come to San Francisco looking for that Man, or any Man, but, once there, her mind opened to the possibility and The List was born.

Creating “The List” was the kind of thing that Marlee did on Sunday mornings while lying in bed, half awake and her mind randomly flipping through the file drawer of her brain. It started as a romantic musing, but as time passed and her hopes and needs for the future crystallized; The List became a practical, no-nonsense set of criteria. Any man who wanted to reside in her heart and soul would have to withstand serious scrutiny and measurement against The List.

Marlee sipped at her tea and walked off to the side of the intersection at Haight Street and Cole. Ad hoc entertainment was everywhere. An old man sat in a folding chair playing a banjo. The Mother-Of-Pearl inlay on the neck sparkled in the light.

Setting her plastic cup on top of a newspaper vending machine, Marlee let her eyes focus on the smiling musician as his fingers flew and “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” caromed off the brick walls nearby. She looked at him, but her heart retrieved The List from its file in her mind.

#1 on The List of qualifications for any future Love was “He must understand my passion for my music.”

Phillip never really did. He was impressed by her skill, but never understood how and why it fulfilled something in her.

At #2 on The List Marlee had placed “A great sense of humor.”

She wanted to laugh. There had been too many tears.

#3 – “Romantic.” Flowers, dancing, old movies and whispers in the dark.

#4 – “Not younger than me.” She had married a Boy. Now she wanted a Man.

#5 – “Dark hair. Maybe with a beard” Marlee found the physical contrast exciting.

#6 – “Intelligent,” which folded neatly into numbers 7, 8 and 9.

#7 – “Creative”.

#8 – “Enjoys the Arts.”

#9 – “Curiosity about…everything.

These four were very closely tied together. Possessing one almost presupposed the existence of the others. Marlee wanted a Man she could look at and regard as her equal and as a fascinating human being.

#10 – “Someone who likes to dance, but doesn’t have to ‘go dancing.’ A Man who will take me for a spin around the kitchen while singing a love song from the 1940s.”

One early morning, while listening to the parrots squawking outside her bedroom window, Marlee added several items to The List that were important to her and, maybe, to no one else on earth.

#14 – “Likes liver and onions.”

#15 – “Likes peach pie above all others.”

#16 – “Doesn’t mind if I eat snacks in bed and will even fetch me the salt shaker if I ask sweetly.”

Some things on The List reflected her growing power as a self-reliant individual.

#23 – “A Man who accepts me exactly as I am.”

#24 – “A Man who will not expect me to subjugate myself in any way for the sake of his ego.”

Her recognition of a basic human need was put forth as conjoined triplets in # 11, #12 and #13, then again as #17, #18 and #19 – “He must be GREAT in the sack.”

#20 followed up quickly on this thought with – “He will hug and kiss at any time, not just when in the mood for sex. Love does not always mean sex.”

Marlee was concerned that she may have gone too far with The List when she noticed that #57 was, “He knows how to use a vacuum cleaner” and she still had more items in mind.

“Jeez, I’m getting awful picky…but why shouldn’t I? After all, I’ll have to stand up against his List too.”

She ended her musing on the make-up of her “Perfect Man” and the likelihood of ever meeting him with, “Well, not in this world.”

“The rent is coming due on the planet. Do you have your share ready?

Shaken from her introspection by a softly insistent voice by her shoulder, Marlee looked down into the dark and fiery eyes of a Haight Street institution: The Kozmic Lady.”

“The planets are all aligned with the signs of water and fire. It means that steamy times are ahead and we may all be in hot water if we’re not careful. I hope you’ve got a fresh teabag.”

“Excuse me?” asked Marlee. “What are you talking about? Planets and teabags?” Marlee was totally confused. Who was this gnomish woman with gray hair and the sparkling eyes of a zealot?

Standing barely five feet tall in her worn sandals, The Kozmic Lady had been spreading her warnings of impending galactic cataclysms for more than three decades. The fact that she had never been right didn’t deter her from continuing her alarms.

“I’ve not been proven wrong yet either, have I?”

Marlee felt that she was looking at someone’s grandmother, who had slipped off course years ago and now traveled a different, yet comfortable, road through life. Everyone in The Haight knew The Kozmic Lady and protected her from serious earthly harm.

“We’ve all been here a very long time, even you, Blondie, and it won’t be much longer until you and I will have to pack up and be ready to run for our many lives.”

“Are you all right, Ma’am? Do you need help?”

“We all need help! I need new sandals. You need a new lover and we all need a new planet!”

Marlee was amused, concerned and a bit unnerved by this tiny apostle for an unknown prophet.

“I need a new what? A new lover? I don’t know who you are ma’am, but MYOB, as Ann Landers would say.”

“MYOB? Sweetie, you are my business and I’m yours. MYOB? No, girl, MYEB! Mind everybody’s business! It’s the only way we can all get off the planet with our socks intact.”

“Our socks?”

The Kozmic Lady reached into her canvas satchel and pulled out a sheet of paper. She thrust it into Marlee’s hand.

“Look, I gotta scoot. Read this paper and you’ll get all the latest news on all the latest news. Carpe Diem and hold the mayo! Andale!”

With that confusing homily The Kozmic Lady darted off into the crowd and left Marlee dazed and holding a paper covered with tiny printing and complex diagrams. Across the bottom was a handwritten message.

“The future is just ahead of you. Keep your peepers open!”

Stuffing the paper in her pocket, Marlee discarded her empty drink cup in a dumpster and wandered away from the corner and headed up Haight Street. The Fair had several more blocks of surprising temptations to offer to visitors and residents alike.

“People! Please give us a little room here so nobody gets hurt. Oh, hi, Luco. How’s it goin’?”

“Not bad, Mike.” Luco’s eyes went back up to the man in the sky.

“Every year some fool does the same dumb thing, don’t they?”

“Yeah. Well, whatcha gonna do, ‘eh, Luco? People! Everybody move back. Now!”

Luco, along with the still growing crowd on the corner, inched back, complying, but not really. New people were coming over to gawk and the crowd control efforts were becoming futile.

Not wanting to see what looked to be the inevitable outcome, Luco tried to extricate himself from the crush of people. He wanted to see the rest of the Fair.

He turned to leave, stepping around two women with toddlers on their shoulders. He got past them and stopped short as he found himself, nose to nose, looking into a pair of green eyes the color of the ocean at the Big Sur coastline.

“Marlee! Good to see you.”

The crowd pushed them closer together.

Marlee was startled to see Luco’s gray eyes this close up. She gasped and said to herself that there was fire in his eyes, a very controlled fire. For just a split second, her mind wondered what it would take to unleash it.

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fourteen

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Fourteen

 

“Oh, come on, John. I kind of feel sorry for him. He has his troubles. I admit that he is a bit weird but…”

Dawn took up where John left off.

“Marlee, Hon, he’s a real head case. Half the stores on Haight won’t let him through the door.”

Marlee saw their sincerity, along with the dash of fear in Dawn’s eyes. Looking back across the Haight Street she could see Dennis waving his arms, arguing with the tattooed clerk. A small cloud of doubt drifted into Marlee’s mind.

The clerk was getting tired of the same nonsensical routine. Her growing flush of anger was giving her tattoo snake an unreal ruddiness.

“Man, every time you come in here it’s the same crap. I’ll tell you one more time and if you don’t like it you can take your freaky business elsewhere. The price for the ‘tat’ is $65 – a one inch skull. There is no freaking ‘frequent flier’ discount. And one more thing…”

“What’s that, Sideshow?”

“Why do you always get the same tattoo every time, you Creep?”

“None of your business. Do you want it to be your business? I can arrange that for you, you little junkie.”

“Do you want the damned tattoo or not, Cretin?”

“Yes, I want the tattoo. Why else would I ever come in here, Skank?”

“To flirt with the help, maybe?” She smiled and flicked out her pierced tongue. “Paper or plastic, Twitch?”

“Plastic today.” He handed over a Visa card and she swiped it into the register. “Let’s get to work, Tiger.”

They disappeared behind the counter, out of sight from Marlee’s view in the People’s Cafe.

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Will You Puh-Leeze Make Up Your Mind!

“YES – NO – MAYBE… WE’LL GET BACK TO YOU.”

These people are driving me crazy – as if I need much to get me there…

To give you the opportunity to run away and hide I will tell you now that today’s blog is about my most recent encounter with my favorite whipping boy: the bozos of the TSA.

We are on the road again down to Texas for a Family visit. We always enjoy going there. No…We always enjoy being there. It is the “going” part that we can do without.

If you have been following this Blog for any length of time you have read my tormented soul screeds about my skirmishes with the TSA. You’ve seen me call them all sorts of names, most of which would get me off of their Christmas Card list forever. Now, after all I’ve said about them and all the names I’ve called them, they have thrown me a curve ball that made me speechless and nervous all at once.

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What Is The Cure For Freezer Burn?

WE REALLY ENJOYED WATCHING THE OLYMPICS. The Thrill of Victory. The Agony of Defeat and all that. The Unleashing of Whackos Worldwide.

The Games have been held in Korea – not exactly down the block for us here in Terre Haute (That’s French for, “Where can I buy a tutu?”). Getting from this part of the world to that part can be expensive and time consuming, so we decided to stay home and watch it all on the TV.

No so for one guy.

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The Same Old News

THIS MORNING’S NEWS FROM OUR CORRESPONDANT IN ASIA carries two related items.

It seems that the air pollution in Bangkok has reached such dangerous levels that the citizens are being advised to breathe only when necessary. The report says nothing about tourists. I guess any visitors to Thailand are on their own breath-wise.

The second alert, also from Bangkok, is that Thailand’s roads are the most dangerous in the world. Given the opaque quality of the air I am not surprised that driving can be a thrill a minute.

Put these two tidbits of information together and if you are in Thailand you are in the middle of a real mess. The only place I can think of that is even more screwed up is Washington D.C. when Congress is in session. Talk about pollution.

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Here We Go Again

 

WELCOME TO THE NEW YEAR. We made it. We have survived 2017 – a year filled with many good and wonderful things and a few that should make us all ashamed.

Now that we are alive and over the hump of the Holiday Season I hope that we are all determined to make this year one to remember with smiles and not cringes. That’s my hope anyway. I’m going to try to do my part.

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Fiction Saturday – Boxer – Conclusion 

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Conclusion

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“What about…” He looked at Gloria who had walked into the room and was standing by the kitchen door with her arms crossed. “Our two – visitors?”

“They’re, uh, in the trunk.” Walker leaned forward ignoring the pain.

“What trunk? My trunk? The Cadillac? You put those dead bodies in the trunk of my Cadillac?” Gloria stood up straight.

“Dead bodies? What dead bodies? She asked. Her words stuck in her throat. “Terry, what dead bodies? You didn’t say anything about dead bodies. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus.” She hugged herself and started to rock back and forth. She was already on the verge of crumbling. “Oh, Terry.”

Walker lost it. “Shut up, you stupid Gin Blossom! Terry, shut her up. I need to think.”

“Gloria, please. He needs to think. I’ve messed things up. I’m sorry.”

Gloria looked at Terry. “You’ve messed things up? What about this jackass sitting on our couch? He’s the one who’s messed things up, not you.”

Walker picked up one of the small pillows from the sofa and threw it at her.  “Hey, Blondie, shut up. Get out of here. Go do something useful. Go slit your wrists.”

“Do something useful? I’ll do something useful right now.” In two steps she was in front of the sofa and she delivered a sharp left jab onto Walkers bandaged shoulder. He let out a short scream before he passed out. “Now that’s something useful, you, Mr.’My Cadillac.’”

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Five

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“I’ll let you in, but I don’t have to like it.”  –Gloria Dumbaugh

 

“No. No. No. Are you crazy, Terry?  What are you thinking? This man has been shot? He’s not a lost puppy You can’t just bring him home.”

Gloria was pissed.

“I don’t know what else I can do, Hon. He’s my Boss. Look, he’s out cold. I got something I gotta do. Just a few minutes. He won’t be any trouble, I promise. Just keep him on the bed.”

“Our bed you mean.”

OK, on the couch then. I gotta go. It’s important.”

“Terry, he’s been shot. What if he dies on me? What then?”

Terry ran his bandaged fingers through his hair. He wanted to run away. “He won’t die. Doc patched him up. See all that tape? He’ll be good as new in no time.” He set the shirtless, unconscious man on her couch. “Hon, I really gotta go. I’ll bring you back some ice cream.”

“Terry, No, you can’t…” She stopped. She knew it was useless. “Butter Pecan.”

Terry took the Cadillac. He wished it was his. Maybe someday. He parked in the alley behind Walker’s office, right back where it had been before all this mess started.

Inside Walker’s office nothing had changed. The dead guy hit with the shotgun was still dead and was going to stay that way. The Fat Guy by the door was…where was he? Terry started to sweat again and talk to himself.

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Four

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“Mr. Walker? You’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, I know, Einstein. My arm. I need to see Doc. Can you drive?”

“Sure. Keys?”

“In my left coat pocket. You’ll have to get them. I’m parked in back – dark green Cadillac. Let’s go.”

“What about them?” Terry asked, pointing with the baseball bat at the two men on the floor.

“Later. They don’t look like they’re going anywhere soon. C’mon, help me up.”

Terry picked up the dead man’s pistol and set it on the desk. Walker slipped it into his right coat pocket.

 

“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”  — Al Capone

 

Doc shook his head. “I can’t do that. Not here. You need to go to the hospital.” He looked pale and hung over. That explained again why he never finished medical school.

“Doc, you gotta do something for him. He’s been bleeding all over the place. He passed out on the way over here.”

“Oh, Jesus, Terry, I can maybe try to stop the bleeding, but that’s about it.” Doc gave the unconscious man a quick eyeball check. “That slug is still in him. Probably stuck in a bone. I can’t deal with that here.”

“Do what you can, Doc. I’ll take him to the clinic, I promise.”

“No hospital. No hospital.” Walker had stirred. He was awake enough to hear what was being said. “No hospital. They’ll call the Police.

“Mr. Walker.” Terry wiped his hands on his pant leg. He was sweating like he had gone fifteen rounds. “Mr. Walker, Doc says that the bullet is still in your arm up by your shoulder. No offense, Doc, but Mr. Walker, you need a real doctor.”

Walker was barely able to stay awake. He shook his head. His eyes were only half open. “No hospital. I’ve got two dead bodies in my office. How do I explain that?”

“What?” Doc took a step back from both men. “What? You two have to get out of here. If the police bust me I’ll die in prison. You have to go. Now. Get out.”

“Terry, he’s right. In my wallet there’s a card…a card. Dr. Wycoff. Call him. Take me there.”

“Wycoff? He’s a Veterinarian,” half shouted Doc, “A horse doctor.”

“Terry, do what I tell you. Call him. Call him and then I’ll…” He passed out again.

“Doc, what should I do? He’s my Boss. If he dies I’m out of work, but if I take him to the hospital we’re both in hot water. Doc?

Doc opened a cupboard and took down a box of latex gloves. “He needs a real doctor, but that Wycoff is an old drunk who’d kill him for sure – if he wasn’t dead by the time you got him there. Damn it. Let me see what I can do.”

The two men lifted the unconscious and bleeding man up onto Doc’s kitchen table. Doc took some scissors and started cutting off Walker’s coat and shirt. Terry moved back and stood there watching and worrying.

“I’ll try to stop the bleeding. That’s first, and then we’ll see if I can at least find that bullet. It’d be a snap if I had an X-Ray.”

Ten minutes later Doc had stopped the bleeding, and after poking around he could tell that the bullet fired by the dead man, the very dead man, still in Walker’s office looking for his face, was lodged in the joint where the upper arm connects into the shoulder.

“Well, Terry, that’s about all I can do. I can see where the bullet is, but…”

“Can you get it out, Doc? That would help him a lot wouldn’t it?”

“I said I know where it is, but it might as well be on the moon. No, I’ve done what I can here, Terry. Thanks to you he is still alive, but he needs more than either of us can do.”

“I think I’d make a good Corner Man, Doc.”

“Yeah, but nobody ever got shot at in the Boxing ring.”

Doc stripped off his latex gloves and tossed them into a wastebasket half filled with empty bottles. He looked at his unconscious patient and at Terry. Standing next to his Boss Terry looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“What to do now, Doc? My Boss needs an X-Ray and there’s two stiffs in his office.”

“Not good, Terry.”

“Yeah, Mr. Walker took out the one that shot him – with his sawed-off. It’s a mess. I got the other one, a big fat guy, with a baseball bat.”

“Oh, Terry, this is getting worse by the minute.’

“Could I just leave, Mr. Walker here for a while, you know…?”

“No. No way you can leave him here. Where does he live? Does he have a family?”

“Jeez, Doc, I don’t know where he lives. I’ve only seen him at his office or at ringside. Family? I don’t know that either.”

Lying on the table, Walker was coming to a bit. He was moaning. His arm and shoulder were heavily bandaged. He was drooling.

“Terry, you have to go, both of you. I’ll help you get him out to your car.”

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Three

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

“Now I know why tigers eat their young.”  —  Al Capone

 

Once the night faded away the streets were wet and the sky promised more. Terry Jarosz was at his Boss’s office at 8:30. He had slept on Gloria’s couch for a few hours using the three grand as a pillow. He dreamed that the money was his, but he knew it wasn’t and now he was at the office to turn it in and get his cut – five percent. The Boss was waiting for him.

“Did you get it all, Terry? Three grand?”

Terry nodded and emptied his pockets out onto the desk.  The last two dollars was in quarters. “I got it all, Mr. Walker.”

“Good job, Terry.” He looked at the Boxer’s bandaged fists. “Jesus H. Christ, what happened to your hands? Was he hiding the money in a meat grinder?”

Terry looked at his bandages. They were feeling tight. He was swelling.

“No. He got physical with me, him and one of his boys. I’m OK. I’ll take it easy for a day or two and I’ll be OK.”

“I hope so. You look like you went twelve rounds with the Marines.”

“I’m OK, Mr. Walker. A hundred-fifty dollars?”

Walker peeled off a couple of wrinkled Fifties and the rest in Twenties and Sawbucks.

“Five percent of three thousand – a hundred-fifty dollars.” He threw in an extra Twenty. “A bonus – to cover the cost of your bandages, Terry. Take your girl out for a nice dinner.”

“OK. Thanks Mr. Walker. I’ll do that. I’ll be ready to go again in no time.”

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Fiction Saturday — “Boxer” — Part Two

 

Boxer  —  Part Two

 

Boxer

by John Kraft

 

 

“You’re either at the table or on the menu.”  —  Al Capone

 

And that was where Mike Walker came in. He was a fan of The Sweet Science.  He’d liked watching Terry fight because he knew it wasn’t just “entertainment.” He respected Terry’s work as a boxer and rewarded him by throwing some jobs his way. Mike Walker had a “Private Security” business. He was an ex-cop, a bad one, who did background checks, provided an extra pair of eyes for shopkeepers when inventories grew legs, and he collected overdue debts. Terry Jarosz entered the picture when payments got slippery.

 With ninety-five out of a hundred people who missed a payment or two it was just one look at Terry and wallets opened up. With the other five per cent – they got stupid before their money finally came across the desk. Stupid is what sent Terry to see Doc. Doc never charged Terry for helping him. He knew that The Rules were never fair for either of them.

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