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 “San Francisco”

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

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

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

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

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

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

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

want this excursion to end.

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

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

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

“And what can I get for you today?”

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

“What would you like?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is delicious, isn’t he?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope you like it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you very much…Luco.”

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

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

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

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

 

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” -Continued

 

 

Haight Street

by

John Kraft

 

 

 

“I think it’s white wine with tuna noodle, isn’t it.”

Marlee took the plates and utensils from his hands and headed into the kitchen. They filled their plates and adjourned to the still sunny space by the Bay window.

In the early evening, with the sun dropping off the edge into the Pacific Ocean, a golden light washed over The Haight. It gave everyone out on the street a healthy “only in California” patina. It looked like Shangri-la.

The warmth and the unreal light made Marlee feel – awake and alive. It was her first addictive taste of California.

“These are the best seats in the house. You must know somebody,” her guest teased.

“I know the chef.”

“I hear that he’s wonderful – and cute too.”

They bantered back and forth as they ate and enjoyed the Napa Valley ‘Table White’ wine.

Dennis Thayer sipped at his glass, nursing it for almost an hour. Over the casserole Marlee learned a little more about this genial stranger who lived up the stairs.

“I work for a housecleaning service – ‘Manly Maids.’ It’s a job, hardly a career. What about you?” he asked.

“I’m a classical musician. I play the cello. I’m in between jobs right now, but I do have an audition coming up soon – I hope.”

“Aren’t we all between jobs, really? I fancy myself a Photographer. More wine, Marlee? May I call you Marlee?”

“Of course, Dennis. We are neighbors. You know, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome. My first full day in my own place in San Francisco and I get a home cooked meal. Is everyone so friendly here?”

“Not by a long shot, sister. Under the icing on this cake is a dirty spoon. So, pick your way carefully. This is a tough and dangerous city and The Haight can be one of its toughest neighborhoods.”

“Really? What about all that, ‘Peace, Love and Patchouli’?”

“Honey, that’s all flummery. Always has been. The tourists come here looking for ‘The Summer of Love’ and end up with some junkie poking a knife in their bellies.”

This was the first dark cloud on Marlee’s sunny view of her new hometown.

“The whole ‘hippie’ thing is really just a kind of nostalgia for things that never were.”

He saw that the smile had disappeared from her face and that her eyes were lazily focused on the last rays of light still hiding on the Pacific horizon.

“Oh, now look what I’ve done. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bum you out. It’s not as bad as I paint it, really. I’m just a cynic. You’ll love it here.

“Tomorrow you get out of this apartment and explore the neighborhood. Waste some money on trinkets and beads. Get a tattoo. Just remember, not all the people in The Haight are as nice as me. If they were you’d be up to your hips in tuna noodle casserole.”

 As the sun set Marlee flipped on the overhead lights. With no curtains or blinds on the windows yet she felt like they were on display, exposed.

“Dennis, I want to thank you for making me feel welcome here. It’s been fun, but I have had a long day and I think that I need to just collapse and get some sleep.”

“Of course. I’ve talked your ears off and fed you like a fatted calf.” He started gathering up the dishes. She moved to help him, but he protested.

“I’m the ‘Manly Maid’ here. Let me do this. I’m a professional. You want to help? Here – go put the wine away in your fridge for another day. Go, play wine stewardess while I bus this station.”

“Dennis, you are a real gem. As soon as I get set up I’ll have you down for brunch. I insist.”

“Fabulous, Miss Marlee! You just rap on the ceiling when the eggs are ready.”

“It may be a couple of weeks or so. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to make this place a home.”

“Whenever.”

Marlee took the wine into the kitchen. She had had a thoroughly delightful time with her new neighbor. The wine bottle would be the first thing in her new, ancient, fridge.

In the other room, Dennis scooped up everything in his tablecloth, one big bundle to be sorted out later. As he headed toward the door he walked past the cardboard boxes filled with books waiting to be unpacked. He smiled as he picked up her slim paperback copy of “Leaves of Grass” and slipped it silently into his shirt.

Back To The Future

 

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I DON’T NEED RIGHT NOW. I may be wrong, but given the fact that I feel like crap right now, I think that I have a bit of a cold. My nose is running more than the Olympic track team, my head hurts, and my stomach is upset to the point of making me want to skip eating until further notice.

I’m hoping that I can shake this quickly because I have to be flying in a few days and I don’t think anyone on the airplane will want to see me galumphing down the aisle with a handkerchief pressed over my nose and mouth. I know that I wouldn’t want to see someone like me coming in my direction.

Oh, well.

Read more…

Here’s Looking At You, Kid

 

IT MAY HAVE SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME, but who would want to get a tattoo on their face? It seems to be a permanent response to a temporary thought. And its gotta hurt.

Getting tattooed, at least in Western cultures, used to be solely in the realm of sailors and cheap crooks. Not any more. These days millions of people get a little butterfly or whatever inked on their body usually in a location where only a lover or a doctor would ever see it. However, there are people who just don’t know when to say “Enough.”

The idea of getting facial tattoos still remains largely in the prison/criminal gang subculture. There are others who get facial “tats” who are not criminals. I would put them in the file drawer under “I didn’t know I could drink that much” or just plain “Nuts.”

Read more…

It Does Rain In California

FROM HAVING WORKED IN NIGHTCLUBS AND THEATERS all those years I became a real Night Person. It was not at all unusual for me to be out and about at 3 AM after the clubs had closed for the night.

With the Adrenaline still pumping it just wasn’t possible to go straight home and hit the hay. A bunch of us would stop at some all-night cafe for a bite and to talk shop.

That was then, this is now.

I can’t do that anymore. Both my mind and my body want to shut down long before those late hours.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Conclusion

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles – Finale.

 

If you want to see somebody who is anybody at Wilma’s All-Nite Café (Just a knife’s throw from the Embarcadero.) you’ll have to wait until the Moon is high and the Moral Threshold is low.

It was close to 3 AM when I brought Hank O’Hare into Wilma’s. I didn’t need to help him find the door this time. Ever since he got his new eyeglasses from the Optometrist Hank had been like a kid in a Candy Shop. In fact, he told me that he had stopped into a Candy Shop just to enjoy the view. He could see the shapes and colors clearly for the first time since he’d lost his real specs and started buying replacements at the Dollar Store.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Part  Four 

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles – Continued – Part Four

 

Sitting in that booth I was face to face with Lech Ontario – one of the Greats – if you listened to him and I was going to have to to find out why my old friend and tutor, Hank O’Hare, was looking for him.

“Tell me, Ontario, why is Hank so anxious to find you? Did you stiff him on a debt, did you cheat him at cards, or did you try to steal his woman?”

When I said that the dockside doxie sitting next to him spoke up.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Part Two 

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles – Continued…

 

Wilma Van der Sluice served the best German Chocolate Cake this side of the cafeteria at the Mortuary College. When she set down her last slice in front of me both my eyes and mouth began to water.

“New perfume, Wilma?”

  “Yeah, you like it? It’s called ‘Evening in Newark.’” She waved her two too massive braids my way. My glasses began to fog up.

“Nice.” It was all I could say.

“Well, enjoy your cake while your ‘Little Gum Drop’ here takes care of those customers in the booth by the Wurlitzer. I’ll be right back to help you lick the plate.” I knew she meant that. It bothered some customers, but Love is Love.

Read more…

Fiction Saturday Encore – The Henway Chronicles – Part One

Fiction Saturday Encore

The Henway Chronicles

 

The fog was rolling in like a slinky coming down an escalator. I didn’t think it would ever stop. I was just a knife’s throw from the Embarcadero on my way to Wilma’s All-Nite Café for a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of cake.

My name is Henway, I’m a dick, head of the best P.I. outfit in town,

“Henway and ____.”

I’ve been thinking about getting a partner.

I’ve been in this racket for more years than I can count. I’m not much at math. I’m more of a people person and tonight I was hoping to meet up with some people.

When I came through the door at the café I could see the owner, Wilma Van der Sluice, behind W2the counter. Wilma ran her café like a maximum security diner. She made the rules and if you didn’t like it the service could really stink.

When she saw me come in she trotted my way, her two too massive braids bouncing up and down by her ears. She smiled and then suddenly disappeared from view. She bounced back into sight almost immediately, still smiling, but with an “It’s Better With Butter” wax paper square stuck to her forehead. Wilma was tough and she was used to these late night slip-ups.

“Hi, Lover Boy. What can I get you?”

“Hi, back at ya, Sugar Lump. I think I’ll check in with my friend there at the counter first.”

Sitting on one of the red vinyl stools was my mentor, the mug that got me into this business, Henry “Hank” O’ Hair. I dropped down onto the stool next to him.

“Hi, Hank, what’s shakin’?”

“Just my gun hand. Oh, it’s you. Hi, Kid.” He always called me “Kid.” He called everybody “Kid.” His memory isn’t what it used to be. It used to be bad, now it was worse.W4

Hank was wearing his trench coat and his aging Fedora, the one with the bullet hole in the brim, but that’s another, much longer, story. He was sitting there, staring at an empty cup. I gave a short whistle and Wilma came running our way, being more careful this time.

“What’ll it be you two hunks of handsome?”

“I’ll have a cuppa, Gorgeous,” I told her.W6

“Me too,” echoed Hank.

“Yeah, a coffee for me and another for my old friend.” Wilma jotted it all  down on her pad, smiled that smile that lit up many a late night like a welcoming sign reading, “Vacancy,” and headed back to her station by the cake dish.

Hank looked a bit down like something or someone had him by the short hairs – and he didn’t have many left.

“You look down, Hank, like something or someone has you by –“

“Yeah, yeah, I know the rest of it, Kid. What’s bothering me? I’ll tell you. I’ve got a case and it’s got me. I’ve been looking for a guy and it’s like he’s dropped off the face of the earth and I’ve come up dry. He’s on the lam and I feel  like I’m the goat here. I’ve looked high and low, near and far, and even sooner or later – nothing, nada, ne, yaga, yimba, a ole, nyet, nahin, and squat.”

“No luck, huh?” He shot me look that said things – I’m not sure what though.

W6

W6Wilma came back over to us and set down four cups of coffee. She smiled and winked at me. It was either a wink or a return of an old problem she had with a tic.

“Talk to me, Henway,” she said, leaning over the counter, her nose just inches from the brim of my imported Fedora. “Tell me something that will give me chills.” I knew where this was heading. I played along.

“Sure, Lambs Lettuce, Do you have any German Chocolate Cake left?”

“One slice and it’s all for you, Puppy Eyes, if you say the magic word.”

“Houdini!,” shouted out Hank. “The guy must be a Houdini to have me not find him.”

Wilma sighed. “Close enough. I’ll get the cake,” and off she went, her braids bouncing like her  head was on a tiny trampoline.

I didn’t like seeing Hank down in the dumps. I had to do something.

“What’s this Houdini’s name,? I asked Hank. He took a long and loud slurp of coffee, then spoke. “This ghost goes by the name of Lech Ontario. I’ve looked everywhere and Nem, nei, nahin, ne, ….”

I finished my first cup while he finished his sentence and then I told him that…”I gotta go see a man about a horse. I’ll be right back.”

W7The Euphemisms, both Guys and Dolls, were at the far end of the café. As I headed that way I passed by the aging Wurlitzer juke box. There were no songs on there newer than the theme from “The Love Boat.” 

It was a slow night at Wilma’s. There was just Hank and me and one booth near the back that had two people – A blonde whose face could start any clock, and a guy who looked like his face could stop your clock – permanently.

Just past the juke box was one of the few payphones left in the city. On a hunch, I started leafing through the pages of the phone book that was bolted to the phone. It was then that I recalled that Hank had taught me everything I know – well, not everything. I learned how to finger paint years before I ever met him, but you get the idea.

There it was – on page 437, halfway down the page –

“Ontario, Lech – 1313 Blueview Terrace 552-3918”

After I finished washing my hands like the sign on the Guys Room door insisted I went back to my spot next to Hank.

“Hank, have you checked the phone book for this Ontario guy?”

“Huh?”

“The phone book – did you look there?”

Without an intelligible word, Hank got up and slowly walked back toward the payphone. When he headed back my way he muttered, “Thanks, Kid,” and kept on walking. He vanished into the fog like a black cat in a coal mine.

to be continued 1

W5

Fiction Saturday Encore – “When Sylvie Sang” from February 2015

Fiction Saturday Encore – from February 2015

When Sylvie Sang

Microphone LargeThis story was created as a performance piece. I presented it a number of times over the years.

It is longer than my usual posts.  

I hope you enjoy it.

 

WHEN SYLVIE SANG the men at the bar would stop and turn on their stools to listen.  The bartender would dry his hands, move to the end of the bar and light up a cigarette.  The waitresses would huddle by the wall and hug their trays.  And the drunken man who cried softly to himself in the corner by the door would lift his eyes and rub his hands together underneath an invisible spigot.

When Sylvie sang, the room was locked in glass and still – as still as a new widow hearing that first long silence. 

In the spotlight the smoke was frozen.

“When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy.”

When Sylvie sang she never really heard the music or thought about the words.  She was far away in a small town by a riverbank, holding onto someone she loved.  She only heard his voice, felt his heat, and the nightclub disappeared.

When Sylvie sang she wasn’t there and the people she sang for knew that because she took them with her.

“What would they say if we up and ran away from the roaring crowd?”

But the song always has to end and when the music stopped the men at the bar would turn again and start to laugh and talk.  The waitresses would rush to cover their thirsty stations and the drunken man would close his eyes again and descend inside himself.  Sylvie would go out into the alley and smoke until the next set called her back.

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The Sounds Of Silence

LAST NIGHT I WAS SITTING AND READING when out of nowhere nothing happened. It startled me. Everything was quiet. For the first time this month I didn’t hear anybody shooting off fireworks in the neighborhood. I got up and stepped outside. Nothing. No fireworks, no dogs, no traffic. I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming.

I am so used to the noise of life in the city that the quiet is a bit unnerving. I snapped my fingers just to make sure that I hadn’t suddenly gone deaf.

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What Are You Gonna Do? 

DURING OUR STAY IN DEMOREST, GEORGIA, on the campus of Piedmont College I must laud high praise on the facilities and the very helpful staff – but I do have one minor, teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy complaint. I say this knowing that I may be the only person here who cares about it. Excuse my reiteration.

In all of the literature from the college, bent on luring us all to come here, they gleefully state that there is a “Starbucks right on the campus,” in the “Commons” building by the bookstore.

Technically they have told the truth.

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What Do You Mean, “Move?”

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

“Oh, it has sound. What fun!”

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

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

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Take Me Out To The Shrine

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

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

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

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How Was Your Morning?

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

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

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

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Joey Who?

joey1IT LOOKS LIKE SPRINGTIME IS FINALLY HERE. I see robins and cardinals and they don’t look worried about frostbite. There are giant Vs overhead going north and there are new baseball stars on the horizon.

Major League Baseball teams have been heavy into Spring Training for over a month and just like the new flowers that pop up in the spring so do new young players.

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It’s Stranger in the Night 

work1FOR REASONS KNOWN BUT TO GOD AND THAT BURGER AND FRIES I HAD FOR DINNER, I didn’t sleep all that well last night. I did wake up several times to go and contribute to the water table. Getting back to sleep I found a difficult problem.

I finally gave up at about 5:30 AM. I’ll make up for my tossing and turning today in front of the TV. All I need to do is drop my bones into the Rip van Winkle Memorial Chair, turn on TCM and BOOM! I’ll be sound asleep within seconds. Like a Polar Bear in winter.

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Fiction Saturday – Chapter 24 – And Pull The Hole – Continued

Fiction Saturday – Chapter 24

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

pull-drivingA starlit nightfall was racing across the Mojave Desert and California was disappearing into shades of gray and neon splashes.

“Davis, wake up.  I want you to take over.  I’m exhausted and I think we’ll be safer with night coming on.  We’ll switch again when we stop for gas.”

“You look drained.  Laura, we are going to make it, right?”

“We’ll make it, Davis.  Things will be fine.  Once we get to the border, we’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, beautiful, carefree, Mexico.”

They were both whistling past the graveyard and they knew it.

They had changed their path south to California Route One, the coast road.  Just north of Ventura, on the outskirts of LA, Laura pulled the car into a Shell station.

The orange floodlights washed over the concrete and the islands with the self-serve gas pumps.  Inside the station a young man with stringy hair and acne sat behind the counter reading a motorcycle magazine.

“I’ll fill it up,” said Davis.

Laura opened her door and got out.  She stretched her arms and yawned.  She looked around the brightly-lit station.

“I’m going to the bathroom.  I’ll be right back.”

She walked into the mini-mart and reemerged seconds later holding a large brass key attached to a miniature baseball bat.  She disappeared into the darkness around the side of the building.

Davis used his debit card to fill the tank of his three-year-old, white, four-door Ford Taurus.  He made a mental note that it was due for a scheduled maintenance checkup.  He topped off the tank and put the nozzle back into the pump.  It was then that he realized he was finally hungry.

He really hadn’t eaten anything since he had picked at his lunch back at the Target store in Santa Maria.  Now he wished that he had, at least, eaten his churro.  Laura had inhaled her food as if lunch was going out of style.

“Maybe she’s more used to this than me,” he thought to himself.

After replacing the gas cap and pocketing his receipt, Davis walked up to the cashier’s counter inside the station.

“Hey, good evening, Mister.  Can I help you?”  The young clerk put his magazine down on the counter.

“Hi.  I need to get something to snack on.”pull-gas-station

“We got a pretty good selection of munchies and the cold sodas and stuff are over there in the cooler.  We don’t sell beer or anything hard any more.”

“Thanks.  Soft drinks will do.”

Davis walked over to the rack.  He studied the collection of foil and paper-wrapped sweet and salty junk foods.  He picked up a small bag of chips and headed over toward the beverages.

“Hey, Mister,” the kid called out to him.

“Yes, what?”  Davis turned away from his search.

“I think you got some company outside,” said the young man, his head tilted toward the door and the gas pumps beyond.

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