Saturday, May 21, 2011

She says goodbye and she says hello

Shattuck and University
“An eye is blind in another man’s corner.” – Irish Proverb


The year I dropped out of Berkeley, Graham and I found a third floor Victorian apartment on Hyde Street, just three blocks down from the corner of Union Street on Russian Hill. Graham was now a college dropout too, a corporate jock working for the man full time at the gas and electric company. 

Our apartment had become Bob’s crash pad of choice rather than his family home in Moraga, the pressure from the aging mistress he had been maintaining across the street having become too great.  Her 19-year-old, Stacy, had finally discovered the affair - she had found a desperate letter her mother was in the midst of writing to her barely legal lover, bemoaning the fact that they could spend so little time together as a result of Bob being busy with work and school. Stacy descended into a drastic state of depression, exacerbated by the funk she had already been in as a result of having aborted a child she had herself conceived with Bob the previous spring, without having told him.

Barb and the Ethiopian boy, Yonas, were an item now.  As it turned out, Roger’s trip to prison had been the greatest gift she had ever received, since she would never have chosen to walk away from him on her own.  On her own, she had ignored voices both silent and audible, allowing the present warmth of Roger’s eyes to muffle them.  Still, she had been rescued, in spite of herself.  Since thinking of Roger now caused her to feel a stabbing pain dead in the notch of her throat, the place where things get stuck for a moment if you are choking, she thought of him rarely, and this caused her some guilt, but not a great deal.

And so it was I began my second year at Cal in fall of 1973 already set apart, having taken a year away to heal.  And I was tied with tighter knots than before to home and to Graham, separate from the maelstrom of the counterculture.  Graham was now a born-again corporate lifer at 20, never to make another steel drum as long as he lived.


Seemingly by magic, Bob had become natively fluent in both Spanish and Italian after a year of immersing himself in a Romance Languages major, during my year away.  He now strived for only one goal as our 1973 year began:  to be European.  He had a plan to become first a vagabond on the Continent, and then to find simple employment there, living on little, slipping quietly out of the American cataclysm and into the deep mysterious green pool of the beckoning unfamiliar. 

The two of us had signed up together for the whole tour:  French I, II, and III, 8:00 am to 9:30 am, Monday through Friday, every single day for a year.  Our fellow travelers on this imaginary trans-Atlantic voyage were an impish nineteen year old named Jacki, kind of a cross between the Mona Lisa and Peter Pan; and our teacher/tour guide, a graduate student in French Language and Literature named Scott Winfrey.  Scott couldn’t have been more than 23 himself, with deep marine blue eyes, and a leonine mane of flax blond hair framing his face.  Originally from Montana, he exuded the essence of a genu-ine Frenchman, not only in his fluency and inflections, but in his mannerisms, the tilt of his head, the way his lips pouted when framing his “oeu’s,” the way he draped his hand like a divo and sidestepped the length of the room when speaking passionately and at length, which was often.  He had traveled in France every summer since he was eighteen.  Jacki and I found him devastatingly handsome, and he appeared to return the favor.

Jacki and I commuted together by bus, and together rode the 7:22 from the AC Transit stop on Shattuck up University Ave. to the Tolman Hall side of campus every single morning, rain or shine, like clockwork.  We became bus sisters, nestled together like sardines in a can or twins in the womb, depending on our mood, pressed into the same seat, the same routine, the same hot bosom of the same family of commuters every single day for a whole year. We knew things about each other that nobody else knew, the things that made us who we were at 7:22 in the morning, still loose and groggy from having studied until 3:00 am, combined with the lack of urgency to operate a motor vehicle. Our hair was still a little unkempt and our guard a little down, enough to free us to share the human things that show who someone really is at the core.

Over the first three or four weeks of our daily ritual, I learned that Jacki had been an Air Force brat who had struck out on her own to see the world.  Her dad was a high-ranking officer, and he was, from her perspective, a force to be reckoned with, as he would be for any child.  But Jacki was not intimidated by his stature, having been born her own woman, and possessing a natural, smart-assed cynicism that constituted both her armor and her means of connecting to those she chose to let in.  Yet still alive inside her were the small, lonely girl who never believed her Daddy loved her, and the girl whose fundamentalist mother had tried to break her rebel spirit by locking her in solitary confinement for long hours at a time, so painfully long that she was still afraid of the dark.

At nineteen she had just finished hitchhiking through the verdant Redwood Valley area of Northern California, through Ukiah and the Russian River, having also finished a side trip through “a far Eastern religious type thing.”  Whatever was not Air Force, whatever was not capitalist, whatever was simply NOT – that was what Jacki was seeking. 

Up there by the river, she had stumbled upon an evangelical church community with a fired up Indiana preacher who taught peace, freedom, equality, and the full integration of all races, all colors, all people, man and woman alike, worldly goods and all.  The core of their membership had migrated there from Indiana to plant the little church, coming to California to escape right-wing persecution and to be closer to the poor, in addition to finding a geomorphically safe haven in case of nuclear holocaust, according to people who study such things.  Once there, their numbers had grown quickly.  The group was an eclectic mix, from the county Deputy District Attorney, to the poorest of the poor who had found their home, including food and clothing, inside the congregation. 

A number of them lived together as a family in a little village off the road, safely battened down each night to protect them from the rednecks and back woods folk that populated the immediate area.  The pastor was a genuine faith healer, had a broken heart for children in need, and spoke strange, unknown languages of Heaven that flowed from his lips like water from underground, languages that had never been heard on earth before, except from the lips of those touched by God.

Jacki was now employed at the church in their newer San Francisco congregation, the big one, handling finances for its overseas work and all of the pastor’s public relations.  This was no small deal because the church had become very important in the City, and had hosted such dignitaries as State Senator George Moscone, Assemblyman Willie Brown, Art Agnos, Joseph Alioto, Angela Davis, and the Rev. Cecil B. Williams.  The protocol involved in her position was considerable, and the relationships she made critical, because it was through these relationships that the church would save the poor of San Francisco from desperation, just as they had done in Ukiah.

“Why don’t you come to church with me sometime?” Jacki asked.  “It’s over on Geary at Fillmore.  The 38 bus goes right to it, the Peoples Temple.  You’d like it.”

A vague memory of a Berkeley school bus bound for Strawberry Canyon buzzed around me like a fly.  I swatted at it unsuccessfully.

I frowned, trying to think of when I could make room in my day for anything new at all. “Well, I get pretty busy on the weekends.  I just got a job at a bookstore, on top of staying on part-time at the power company.  But I’m not ruling it out yet.”

But I had ruled it out, albeit unconsciously, because something in the middle of the warm, sticky harmony of the space between us was tiny and hard and cold, and – empty.  Whether that was wisdom or neglect, I still haven’t sorted out.


Everywhere you go in Berkeley, you see tulip trees.  Liriodendron tulipifera.  I had learned the Latin name for them from the herpetologists, who also loved botany.  Sometimes, on the bus in the morning while Jacki and I were riding to French class, we would just sit quietly, looking out the window at the trees and the street life they sheltered.  Other times, we would show each other things and places that had been part of our lives, like the massage parlor with Barb’s flat on top, once Barb’s and Roger’s, and the sign lettered in Olde English, “Herein Lies the Rub.”

One day we were talking about our majors.  Jacki told me she was taking French because her financial work with the overseas projects required her to travel to Europe, and sometimes to other places where French was spoken, like the Bahamas and French Guiana, sometimes even Paris.  She didn’t have a major picked out yet, but she knew her future was somehow connected to Peoples Temple. 

“Maybe I’ll take some business classes later when I know more about what’s in the cards for me, but right now I’m just enjoying the ride, so to speak.  Jim looked at me one day and told me I have a special gift.  He said I was someone who can be trusted with many things.  No one had ever told me that before.  I guess I’d been told I was smart enough, even pretty, in a boyish sort of way, or funny.  But no one had ever told me I was special.  That I could be trusted, with things that mattered to them.  Not even my own father – well, especially not my own father.   I would go to the ends of the earth for Jim Jones, and back.  And I believe he would do the same for me.”


Attendance was light as usual that morning as Jacki and I walked into class, with seven or eight of the 35 or so chairs, each equipped with its own right-armed note table, occupied only by the dust that floated in the flood of 8:00 am light that hovered above them.  There were two left-armed chairs in the room, and Bob always got there on time so he could nab one of them.

The light was beautiful in the side rooms at Dwinelle Hall at 8:00 am, especially in fall, the sun slanting at just the right angle through the high, narrow windows along the corniced ceiling, illuminating the surfaces that still carried the scuffs and carvings of decades gone by, traces of who knew what great scholar or poet or villain had shared this space with us. 

Bob was already there, and he and Scott stood inches apart, eye to eye, while the rest of the sparse group looked on.  Scott was showing Bob a large format brochure of some sort, the color pictures of rough hewn stone houses and rolling hills and the Arc de Triomphe brilliant enough to capture attention even from a distance.  Scott spied Jacki as she entered and accosted her immediately.

“Ma petite Jacqueline, this is for you aussi,” he bubbled, fully in character as always.  “Robért is going to travel to France with me before Christmas, and you’re coming too.  We have scholarships every winter break for four epatant beginning French students to travel and practice abroad, and the two of you are my choice.  You may not say no!  Quelle est tienne réponse?”

“My response is yes!  But can I ask my boss?” Jacki asked, looking pleased and worried at the same time.  “I think he’ll like the idea.  But is he allowed to say no?”

“Absolument non!  And you tell him I said so.”

“Oui, monsieur.  I’ll check,” she answered, lips smiling, eyes frowning.  Bob walked past my arm-chair on the way to his left-handed one, raking his fingertips across my desktop as he passed.  “I’ll miss you, ma petite. No Christmas caroling this year.”

“Je sais, je sais,” I sighed, feeling abandoned, a great grey expanse of emptiness spreading dramatically like a pool around me.

Done for the morning, we came out into the light and headed across the quad toward the Life Science Building, where the songbirds were doing their free-fall dance, skyrocketing in pairs to heights at least two human body lengths above the five story structure, then diving twice as fast to within inches of the ground, passing each other in a tantalizingly close arc.  Then they ascended again, passing in midair, flirting, practicing for next spring’s avian love dance.  Bob grabbed my hand and swung it up in the air, then back down, then up again, and winked at me.  Smiling broadly, I suddenly felt very sad, and very, very alone, knowing that Bob and I would never be together, but totally failing to understand why.  And having Graham back at home, slaving away as the financial head of our informal family day in, day out, didn’t make me feel any better.

So Bob flew away for the winter, far across the farthest pond, and laughed and drank Bordeaux and met new people and learned to speak fluently in a language I almost didn’t understand.  When he came home, he was a newer, deeper, shinier, more joyful Bob than ever, one that I would love even more than I had before. 


Bob arrived back from Paris the morning of Christmas Eve, and I knew as soon as I saw him that he had not really just come home, but instead had just left it.  A faraway joy shone at the back of his dappled blue-green eyes, and the taut cords of muscle that had always coiled just under his skin like a hyperactive spring had smoothed out and loosened their grip, leaving what appeared to me to be a man occupying the space where the boy had lived before.  I could have sworn his voice was slightly deeper, too, but with more - flair.
Graham and I met him at the shuttle stop, where the bus had just brought him back from SFO.  He had left with one back pack and one giant Samsonite suitcase, and come back with an extra backpack, full, hinting at the trouble he had taken to bring home the perfect thing for everyone.  He chattered all the way up the hill on the 41 Union, a new French accent coloring everything he said.

“Do you really speak French now?” I asked, the electric arms that tethered the bus to the lines overhead clacking against each other as we pulled to the curb for a stop.  “You sound like a transplanted Frenchman! And you look like one, too!”  His hair was a little fuller, his shirt had that je ne c’est quois, and his hands floated like birds, inflecting important phrases avec l’emphase.  And he smelled good.

A flood of rapid French flowed from his lips in response, more and faster than I had the capacity to hear, given the almost two weeks I had just gone with virtually no French in my head whatsoever.  “Well, I didn’t understand a word you just said, so I guess you speak French,” I replied, starting to unzip his extra backpack.

“Not so fast, ma cherie.  There’ll be time for that later.  Let me tell you about nôtre petite Jacqueline, though, and how much fun she had.”

“C’est vrai?  Tell me more.”

“She flew the coop, twice.  Once all afternoon, and once all night.” 

The bus hissed as it came to a stop at the red light. 

“The afternoon she ran off was the day Scott took us to sidewalk cafés so we could practice ordering everything in French, and then strike up conversations with the waiters about how to get around Paris and whatever else they would agree to talk to us about.  So we were at Les Deux Magots near the Quai, and you could see directly into Café de Flore on the opposite corner.  She was sitting over there with her back to us with a guy in a grey business suit, which in no way matched what Jacqueline was wearing, being Jacqueline, as you know.”

“I know indeed.  Go on.”

“She had had a little flat case with her on the plane that she kept under her seat, and she never got up that we saw, so she must have used the bathroom when we were sleeping, because those were two of the longest flights I have EVER been on.  She never took off her sweatshirt, either.  Quel horreur.”

“Yeah, yeah, keep going –“

“Well, in the café, she had the case by her foot.  The two of them were talking, and the man was making notes in a little book.  He tore out a page from the book and handed it to Jacki, and she put it in the back pocket of her jeans.  When they had finished their drinks, she picked the case up off the ground and laid it flat on the table.  He took it, and they both got up and walked off toward the Champs Elysees.  We watched them until they disappeared in the trees. What do you think about that?”

“Well, she said she did financial business for the church that took her overseas,” I speculated.  “That sounds like business.”

“Actually, there’s a Swiss bank in that direction, across the Quai.”

“Well, that’s probably it.  It’s part of her mission work,” I said matter-of-factly, flagrantly ignoring at least two separate voices proposing less friendly explanations, one of them in French.  “That’s probably why the pastor let her go.”

“That’s some mission she’s on then.”

“Why don’t you ask her?”

“Peut-être pas - perhaps not, ma belle.”

“Well, here’s our corner anyway,” I noted, as I pulled the cord overhead to ring for the stop, grabbing one of the backpacks and stepping out into the aisle, reeling a little from the motion.

Graham, a man of few words as always, just smiled slyly at Bob, and hefted the big Samsonite up and over the seat, working it up the aisle toward the front of the bus.

“I missed this place more than I thought,” said Bob, looking at Graham, and then back down the Union Street hill toward North Beach as we climbed out into the veiled wintry light.  “We still have a lot to talk about, mes amis.  A whole, whole lot.”


Bob had parked his car around the corner on Green Street, and our neighbor Al the cable car grip man had moved it for him every couple of days.  He was expected at his mom’s house for Christmas Eve dinner, but neither Graham nor I had re-established normal relations with our parents yet since we had moved in together, so we had planned a quiet dinner at home.  It was almost time for Bob to load up the Mustang and head for Moraga, but first, we had a few things to share, a couple of gifts, and Christmas chatter. Graham and I had put up a scrawny six foot Douglas fir in our bay window, hung with 99-cents-a-box ornaments from Woolworth’s on Market Street, God’s eyes we had made, cranberry and popcorn garlands, and multicolored lights, one string.  It was about three cuts above a Charlie Brown Christmas.  I poured everyone a glass of apple cider with a cinnamon stick, and Graham and I curled up on the gold velveteen sectional, Bob in the Cost Plus beanbag chair.

“Hmmm.  For me?” asked Bob, pulling out two wrapped gifts from under the tree.

“For you,” Graham replied, twirling the mustache he had been growing since Thanksgiving.  It made him look just like a captain of industry.

Bob opened Graham’s gift first, a large flat package wrapped in red foil with two stick-on bows.

“Is it underwear, Dad?”

“No, son,” replied Graham.  “Just open it.”

Tearing off the paper, he found a framed 16 x 20 matted black and white print, on Agfa Brovira Rapid glossy, unpressed, of a stand of redwood trees across a clearing in Muir Woods, a place Graham and Bob had often gone alone to hike and breathe and talk about whatever.  Graham had taken it himself the last time they were there together, and had printed it in our bathroom while Bob was in Paris.  It was signed in the lower right corner.  Their friendship was a deep one, and had its own unfathomable identity separate from me, separate from any other combination of the three of us.  Bob held the photo at arm’s length, moved.

“Thanks, man,” he finally said in a hushed voice.  “Thanks.”

Graham nodded, his eyes moist, and Bob gently set the picture down and reached for the other gift labeled with his name.

“Ma petite,” he said.  “What have we here?”  He shook the oblong box and held it to his ear.

“You’d better wait till you open it before you decide if you want to shake it, not break it,” I replied, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, mommy,” he sing-songed, and ripped off the paper.  “Oh, wow, this is special.  Thank you, sweetheart.”  He leaned over and gave me a peck on the lips.  It was a high-powered tabletop telescope on a tripod stand, one he could use to find the planets we used to lie on our backs and look for on clear nights, which were rare and special in Daly City, over on the high school football field right at the end of the block where Bob lived.

“I will look for Venus just for you, my love.  Thank you.”  He set it down and reached for his backpack and unzipped it, pulling out a long box and a tiny square one.

“Graham, friend, this is for you.”  He handed Graham the long box, and Graham carefully removed the muted tissuey paper, exotic and foreign looking, folding it neatly in four and setting it on the arm of the sectional.  He opened the box and pulled out an inlaid wooden kaleidoscope, which he immediately put up to his eye.

“Amazing,” he said, and walked from the lamp to the Christmas tree, then to the kitchen window, then the bathroom, aiming it into every source of light he could find to see the variations in the colors and shapes, turquoise and rose, purple and sea green, stars and triangles and whorls, both two-dimensional and three, a transforming work of art.

“It’s really far out, man. Thank you.”  It did not need to be said that the kaleidoscope was the gift of seeing the world abstractly instead of literally, in motion instead of still, in living color instead of in black and white.  Just once in a while, Bob wanted Graham, when the mood struck him, to go to that place and know that Bob had taken him there, and Graham was happy to go if it was with Bob – but never with me.

“Now you, cherie.”  He handed me the small box.  “But don’t open it just yet.  Graham, do you mind if I borrow your imaginary wife for just a minute?”  Graham shook his head no, and the two men caught each others’ eyes in some unknown silent communication.

“Walk with me, petite.”  And he took my hand and led me outside, down the stairs to the front stoop.  “Sit with me.  Now open.”

“You are a man of mystery, Bob Bertrand,” I sighed, as I tore away the paper and found the grey jewel box inside.  I gingerly popped open the lid.

Inside was a delicate gold locket, with tiny ornate openings cut out around the outer edge of the heart on the face.  I rested my hand on my collarbone and took in a small gasp.

“Take it out, open it,” he said anxiously.

I lifted the small heart from its cotton resting place and put it in the palm of my left hand, gently prying back the cover with my right.  Inside was a tiny photograph of the Eiffel Tower.

“Bob, I . . ,” and I put my arms around his neck and hugged him.

“Let me,” he said, pulling away, and took the locket from me, turning my shoulders away from him and reaching around my neck to clasp the locket closed.  “I stood in front of the Eiffel Tower and thought about you when I was gone, and I wanted to bring it back so you could keep it.”  Then he took my shoulders again and turned me to face him.

“Cherie, I have something to tell you.”

We looked at each other for a minute in complete silence, except for the cable revolving on its pulley system under the cable car tracks in front of us.

“When I was in Paris, I met someone.”  My heart stopped still, and I didn’t breathe. 

I found myself on solid ground because we had both known for some time that something was not aligned with us, something we didn’t understand.  And now it looked like somehow, he had found his answer, and I was happy for him, and ready.  I was ready, and had been.  Still, for him to have found the right person so quickly after all we’d been through together . . .

I stopped myself.  “I see.  I’m glad for you, sweetie.  What’s her name?”

He breathed, one long deep breath.

“Scott.  His name is Scott – yeah, Scott the teacher.  And you know I didn’t meet him for the first time.  I only met him in a new way.  I don’t believe he’s the one I’m going to share my life with.  And he certainly is not you – no one will ever be you, ever.”  There were tears streaming down his face now.  “But he helped me find the Bob that I’ve been looking for all this time.”

He waited for me, and then spoke again.

“I love you with all my heart.  You’re the other half of me.  It’s unfair in a lot of ways.  But this is who I am.  Do you still love me?”

I was stunned by a sudden peace I didn’t recognize, overcome with perfect love that lifted me high over the street, gave me a lightness of letting go.  It was – inexplicable, and sudden, like a recognition.

“Oh my God!  Wow.  Well, I think I love you more.  Are you all better now?  Will you be OK?”  I stroked his cheek, which was tense again underneath like a coiled spring.

We wrapped our arms around each other and held on for dear life.  He was trembling so hard it worried me.  “I’ll always be here, always.  Don’t ever be afraid of losing me,” I whispered.

“OK,” he gurgled into my hair, right in the same spot where Barb had rested her face, after she had returned from her break with time and space on the bus back from Strawberry Canyon.  “Now let’s go back upstairs.”

When we had pulled ourselves together and walked into the apartment, Graham was at the kitchen counter, pouring the filling into the pie shell for the pumpkin pie.  He turned, and he and Bob were eye to eye.

“Everyone OK?” Graham asked.

“Yes, OK,” Bob answered, and Graham nodded knowingly and looked back at his task, wiping a spill he had made and rinsing his hands. “I put the chicken in when you were outside, Shel.  It’ll be ready at 5:00.”

And I was alone.


Christmas Day went by quietly, Graham and I exchanging gifts which we had shopped for together in advance, like old marrieds – a new vacuum cleaner, and a toaster oven for 11:00 pm meals eaten between work and study time.  We were now doing photography together, and it had become a way of organizing our world.  So we strolled the block quietly that day, shooting the bare trees, the empty shops, the neighborhood children playing with their new Christmas trikes or firetrucks or whatever.  We dug in the sandbox in the neighborhood playground and swung on the swings, snapping headshots of each other, and there we talked about our dreams and how they had changed so rapidly over the past two years, and how different we had become.

And we talked about Bob.  Graham had already known that Bob was struggling with his sexuality for some time, and confessed to me now that he had been vaguely uncertain about his own sexuality also, but had never acted on it.  He said he had often wondered if he was actually in love with Bob instead of with me, and Bob had wondered the same about him. 

I had to think about it, having guessed after Bob came out to me the night before that Graham had his own doubts.  I told him I believed that he was really “in love” with both of us, in different and completely OK ways, and that none of us had yet really figured out what it meant to love someone for life anyway, but only just for now, just to get us through. 

Graham allowed that this could be true, that he could be in love with both of us, simply nodding his assent silently as men of few words do.   Then he and I got up from our seats in the sandbox and returned home to make more pie, having finished the pumpkin pie for breakfast, and to play with our new vacuum cleaner.  We agreed if we weren’t too tired, we would develop our Christmas negatives after dessert.

It would be many months before we had revisited all of our memories of Bob, both privately and together, and put them into place through our new lens, the lens of understanding that Bob was gay, and had been all this time.  He just hadn’t known it, or wanted to know it.  But now that he knew who he really was, it was time to celebrate the newborn Bob, and the one he would grow up to be, the one who would learn to love for life. 


Sun Myung Moon came back to Berkeley after Christmas that year.  He had been all over the Bay Area the year before, during my year of corporate solitude.  He had drawn a crowd of hundreds in San Francisco in Civic Center Park, and “rallied for God” at Cal in Sproul Plaza, with Barb looking on from a cautious distance.

Moon was scheduled to speak in Zellerbach Auditorium on campus that January, and had full page ads out in the Berkeley Gazette and the Daily Cal to promote himself.  The Campus Christian Coalition, an intervarsity group representing all denominations on campus, had figured out that Moon was claiming to be the second coming of Christ, and took out a full-page ad of its own in protest, carrying picket signs and distributing leaflets on the steps of Zellerbach that said “THIS MAN IS NOT THE MESSIAH,” with Moon’s picture dead center.  Right beside them were anti-war protesters, there to expose Moon’s hawk leanings and his ties to Nixon.  On strike, shut it down. 

It was hard for Barb to understand how Moon’s momentum continued, considering the weird theology and blank-eyed intensity she had seen from her brief glimpse inside.  But we also had both felt the pull of the Moonie vortex, the well-crafted technique that they used with precise coordination, and how they leveraged the loneliness, exhaustion, and alienation kids felt when they were away from home. 

Because even though we were young, we were the largest generation on the planet, living in the Yellow Submarine together, all of us immature and suffering with communal post-adolescence.  And we were idealistic, believing that if we all agreed, we could simply roll over the power brokers who ran the world for personal gain instead of for the people; and when we had rolled over them, then the poor and the weak would rise up with us to create a new world where everyone was equal and fed and loved.  From a distance, it all looked so simple. 

The Moonies had looked into that vortex, and had been sucked in, their leaders deeply connected to the Moon power base that was calling the shots, shaping and reshaping their message for maximum appeal, while Moon collected more and more land and capital and influence around the world.  The everyday street warrior Moonies that lived in group homes and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three times a day in exchange for their Moon boss’s approval, the ones that worked to harvest our lost souls and sold flowers on the street corner, were just as raw and lonely and in need of a reason as the rest of us.  And they believed that, because of the sheer mass of their numbers and the force of their agreement, they would change the world. 

What they didn’t realize was that their Father was feeding off of the mega power structure along with the worst of them, forcing his people to live like communists while publicly opposing Communism, and feeding off of the Moonies’ labor and meager earnings to make it possible.  So really, he was feeding off of his own “children.”

And while this was happening, Jacki, nôtre petite Jacqueline, was also looking straight into her very own vortex, a different one, right that very minute, and we didn’t even know it yet.  But the world would know before very long, and would echo with mourning long, long after our youth had faded away forever.


Ever confused, I started thinking about switching schools midway through winter quarter.  I talked to Jacki about it on the bus one day, my camera strapped around my neck giving evidence that my way of making sense of the world now required this new tool.  Often I would just raise the camera and look through it, without snapping the shutter, just to view someone’s face, or some snippet of street life.  I would move the frame from here to there and reconsider the exposure until the imaginary photograph that might have resulted had formed in my mind, helping me extract the essence of the moment.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“I mean what do you want to do when you’re done with school – like, for a living?”

A practical question to ask, for one who was looking down the vortex
“I want to teach.  High school.  I want to teach high school kids.  The way most high school classes are taught is so rote and empty and disconnected from anything that matters.  If I hadn’t had Zimmerman for a teacher, there would be no way I’d have made it here at Cal.  I wouldn’t be able to read into things, to know what all the layers of meaning are in all those piles we have to read, or come up with ideas about them, or pick out what matters and what doesn’t, or what’s reasonable and what’s nonsense.  I wouldn’t be able to write or argue or any of the things we do every day here.  Did I ever tell you about Mike Romero?”

She didn’t answer.  I went on.  “He was one of the physics and chemistry kids at my high school, kind of a genius.  He was also a real pimply kid, with frizzy hair and thick glasses, and kind of fat.  He was in his second quarter here, and he was getting A’s in Chem 10 and the math classes everyone else was either flunking or was too low to even be taking yet, but his grades in his breadth requirements, his English and his History, were really bad.  The boy could not write for anything.  In high school he had always taken the “regular” English and social science classes so he could concentrate on his sciences and math, so he never had Zimmerman, or even Kellard – those were the guys who would force you to think about why, and to come up with alternatives, not just answer the questions at the end of the book.  They made you write.  They taught you to think.”

“So what happened?”

“Happened to what?” I asked, lost in thought.

“To Romero?  What happened to Romero?”

“Oh yeah – it was the start of finals week, and he found out he was flunking poli sci.  Unless he pulled out a miracle on the final, he was going to get an F.  He just couldn’t get his head into all the why’s and the how’s and the processes and the historical-political subtexts that come with the program in poli sci.  We told him to take US History instead, but he thought poli sci would be more fun.  He was going to get an F.  His parents were the type that didn’t really even like B’s, and he certainly had never had an F. 

“He was so tripped out, he could hardly study for the English Lit final he had the next morning, and he sat up all night worrying about what his parents were going to say.  Finally he fell asleep, really early in the morning some time.  But he had forgotten to set his alarm, because he never really went to bed.  He overslept his English Lit final, and he was pretty sure he was already getting a D in that class, besides.  He missed it completely.  Never even woke up till nine o’clock. He ran over there, but they wouldn’t let him in.  So he was probably going to get two F’s.”

“Oh, man.  What did he do?”

“He went back to the dorm.  Somehow, he got a hold of a rifle or a shotgun – they think he had been saving it all along - and he locked himself in his room.  Most everyone else was still at finals when he got back.  He shot himself in the mouth.  The RA let himself in when he heard the shot and found him there.”


We were quiet for a whole block.

Finally, I broke the silence. “He wasn’t strong enough to know it didn’t matter, that he could have survived it.  He didn’t know that his life was worth more than just dying in his dorm room.  Zimmerman would have given him that.  That was even more important than the writing and the thinking, although those things would have helped Romero too.  Zimmerman would have given him that.  He gave it to me.  And I want to give it to whoever will listen.”

“Well then I guess it doesn’t matter what you major in, does it?  You should do whatever you want, as long as it’s something you can teach,” she finally replied.

I considered what she said for several minutes.

“I think you have hit the nail on the head.  You’re absolutely right.  Thanks.”  I paused for a moment.  “Jim is right.  You are smart.”

“If you think so.  And you’re welcome.”  She possessed an air of certainty.  That was her strong suit, and her weakness.

Because on the days when a small voice nagged at the back of her mind to THINK, to turn right instead of left, to go back instead of forward, more and more often, she chose to ignore the obvious.  But back then we only sensed this, and would not know it for certain until much, much later.  This was true because we were doing the very same thing ourselves.

And with that, the bus rolled up to our stop, and we headed up the hill to French, just like we had every morning since fall.


Lighthouse Market opened a deli that year, and we watched Bruno and Ray tear their hair out as the aging, hard-drinking owner tried her hand at filling the case every morning with hot dishes to tempt the finicky Russian Hill crowd.  She would stumble in bleary eyed about twenty minutes before opening each day, and the deli case would stay dark until seconds before lunchtime, with empty trays or half-eaten ones, covered with plastic, sitting out on display to tell the tale.  Breakfast was not even in the cards; Jean had a hard enough time just putting up the cheeses and the deli meats before the front door opened to even think about offering breakfast items.

I was still working about ten hours a week at the power company, and six hours at the book store in the Cannery, so I had room in my psychotic schedule for about six to eight more hours, I thought.  One day I walked into Lighthouse with a bowl of my best potato salad, a meat loaf, and a plate of cheese blintzes, and offered myself up to Ray as a helpmate for Jean.  Jacki had encouraged me to do this.  She knew Ray and Bruno somehow from before, although I really didn’t know how, and muddled up in my own thing, I really didn’t think anything about it.

Ray, the manager and all-around neighborhood go-to guy, was a thick-necked, broad-chested former Galileo High School football player with a wife and two kids at 23.  His parents had been killed in a car accident when he was four, and he had been raised by his hard-working widowed grandmother, really raising himself.  He had wide brown eyes that he usually kept narrowed, and thick, straight black hair that he greased back.  Sometimes a stray clump would hang along his cheek, giving him a roguish appearance when he snapped his head back to get it out of his way.  He always had a five o’clock shadow even when freshly shaved, and gigantic square hands with blunt stumpy fingers, big enough to pick up a small watermelon one-handed, or keep a good grip on a football, or a baby.  He had a warm, protective quality under his gruff exterior, and, once he sensed your loyalty, would die for you.  That is to say, as long as you never let him down, or crossed him.  At Lighthouse, Ray was king, and his wife, Nannette, was queen.

Ray took a look at the spread I brought in and asked, “Is it that obvious?  Can you tell I’m desperate in here?”

“It’s pretty obvious,” I answered.  “But we can fix that.  I’ll leave these with you, and you let me know.”

So two days later I started as the deli girl at Lighthouse Market, and Jean was beside herself - but not in a good way.  Still, even though she was the owner, whatever Ray said went, so she had to live with me, and my recipes, for the time being.  We would make up the whole week’s hot dishes during the nights when I was free to work and then store them in the walk-in, and she would put them up the next morning. 

Since our cooking sessions were late, she would show up already way out in left field, fresh gin on her breath and the dull glint of alcoholic determination in her eye.  Then she would stage impromptu cooking contests, using what probably were once well-loved family recipes that now fell victim to her impaired state.  She would produce her undercooked meatloaf with the overcooked egg in the middle, or her limp, watery stuffed bell peppers, and then in the morning stick them in the window beside my enchilada pie or my rolled omelette with spinach mousse filling, or the baked frittata with oven-dried Roma tomatoes and pecorino.  My ears would burn, wherever I was, each time a customer would order a hot plate of one of my dishes instead of hers, which was apparently often.

We had hot plates because I asked Ray to get us one of those new microwave ovens, and he did.  To look at Jean, I would have been dead if looks could kill.  Jean had a pacemaker, and every time a customer wanted a dish heated up to eat and go, she had to go in the kitchen and leave the other girl I convinced him to hire, Karen, alone with the customers so the oven wouldn’t stop her heart.  Jean wound up making all of the sandwich orders in there, with Karen passing the ingredients through the hole. We finally took to leaving the breads and condiments in there to begin with, Jean in back and Karen or me, whoever could come in, out front.  After a while, she realized she liked it a whole lot better that way, because she could dress however she wanted and could escape out the loading dock for a smoke, or a drink, more often.

Bruno would usually be working the grocery register when Jean and I arrived for the cooking shift.  He pulled in the produce and locked the front door every night at 10:00 sharp.  Then, after he had drained and covered the bins and finished out the register, he would carry the zipped bag of cash up the stairs to the little loft that served as both an office, and an occasional necessary sleepover for Ray or Bruno or whoever needed it.  It was equipped with a desk, a typewriter and a ten-key with a pull handle, a small safe, and a wide cushioned bench along one wall that allowed for a very comfortable nap, or whatever was called for.  Down on the floor, you could see the silhouettes of whoever was up there, backlit by the lamp hanging over the end of the bench, above the slat half-wall that contained it.

One night Jean didn’t show up, and then later called and said she had a stomach flu or some other gastric disturbance.  After Bruno locked up, he and I were there in the store alone, me in the kitchen baking a tray of blintzes and a vegetable lasagna while a giant pot of chicken cacciatore simmered on the stove-top, and him in the loft counting the cash.  I could hear the click-click-click as he pressed the tall cylindrical buttons to enter the figures, then the ratchet of the pull handle when he took a sub-total.  After the door to the safe swung shut and Bruno had spun the combination lock, it became quiet, and I knew he was just up there waiting for me, like he usually did for me and Jean.

“Why don’t you come down?” I called.  “You don’t usually get to eat my cooking when it’s still hot.  Come on, I’ll make you a plate.”

I heard a rustling, and then his feet on the stairs as he came down.  Soon he appeared in the kitchen door.

“Hey, Tranquilla.  Is that cacciatore?  I’ll go get a Boudin loaf.  You want some Chianti?”

“Absolully,” I said, laughing, because Bruno said “absolutely” in response to pretty much anything, pronouncing it “absolully.”  Bruno called me Tranquilla because I was quiet and shy compared to the Italian neighborhood girls he had grown up with, who usually giggled and screamed and teased their hair.  He and I only talked to each other when we actually had something to say – which was now and then, or in the daily course of business.  Now and then, he would get hyper and run around the store making little “meep meep” noises out the side of his mouth like the Roadrunner in the Warner Brothers cartoons.  Then he would try to draw me out with some taunt about my hippie look, or my “gypsy” earrings, and he would get back from me a little Mona Lisa smile.  He enjoyed doing this most while I was waiting on a customer.  Tranquilla.

I got out two paper Dixie hot bowls, two plastic soup spoons, and plastic forks, plus a roll of paper towels.  Bruno came back with a round-bottomed bottle of Chianti in a straw wrapper, a cork puller and two paper cups, plus the Boudin loaf.  While he uncorked the wine, I filled the bowls with steaming cacciatore and pulled up two stools to the little counter that ran under the pass hole out to the deli.

“No knives?” he asked, an edge of macho humor in his tone.

“You know my cacciatore falls off the bone,” I jabbed back, and set his bowl down in front of him.  He tore off two chunks of sourdough with his hands and handed me one, along with a cup of Chianti.

“Salute,” he said, raising his cup, and I nodded back, raising and sipping.  He dipped a chunk of bread into his sauce and pushed it into his mouth, letting out a low moan.

“So you don’t like it?” I teased.

“I think it’ll do OK.  Absolully,” he mumbled around the steaming mouthful that he had just chased with Chianti.

We both burst out laughing, red wine backing up in his nose, making him sputter and cough and laugh harder.  Then he quieted down and looked straight into my eyes, hard.  Those white blue eyes, the jet black hair – I was frozen.  Absolully could not move.

“You have beautiful skin, you know, Tranquilla.  Do you ever think about me?” he asked softly.

“I do,” I replied.  “And then I shake myself off, and I think about Graham.”

But the difficult thing at this moment not to think about was the letter I had found, written to Graham from Lois.  Lois was the macho center – or was she a forward? - for the PG&E girl’s volleyball team, and the letter was in his jacket pocket when I was getting ready to wash it.  I had buckled under the temptation and read the entire thing, start to finish.  It was clear that they had been walking around an attraction to each other for quite some time.  I had not yet confronted him about it, giving him the benefit of the doubt that it was only on her end.

Bruno looked at me a minute more, and then he began talking gently to me, while I smiled back a Mona Lisa smile, except with the eyes a little more down at the corners than usual.

“Yes, that’s what you should do.  You do that.  That’s what I want you to do.  You are a sweet girl, Tranquilla.  Why so sad now?  Don’t put on a muso lungo.  You’re gonna make me sad too.”  He chattered like that just a little longer, comforting both of us, every bit the gentleman.  Then we finished our dinner talking about everyday things, like the garbage men who came to the loading dock at 6:00 am every day to get my leftovers; or the book our friend and customer Armistead was writing, and how we thought he would write us into it, if he decided to, which we hoped he would.  Armistead was our neighbor and was going to start a column in the Chronicle, “Tales of the City,” by summer.  He was our version of a glamorous celebrity, a local golden boy with a shot.

Bruno finally wiped his mouth and sighed a contented sigh. “OK, I’m going to go upstairs and work on the books now, and you let me know when you’re finished up.  That was the best cacciatore I ever ate, no lie.  Even my mama’s.  Hey – meep meep – I like your earrings, hippie girl.”
He chucked me under the chin and ran away upstairs. I cleaned up in silence, pouring the cacciatore into a serving pan and covering it, wrapping the lasagna and the blintzes and filling the little plastic cups of lingonberries to put on top, corking the wine and putting it in the walk in, the wine I hoped was for us to finish next time, the next time that I hoped would be soon.


One of my rare free Sunday nights about 10:30, I walked over to the deli to see if Karen or Jean were still there and needed anything, probably secretly hoping to run into Bruno.  The store was dark inside like they were already gone, but as I came up to the alley on the way to the front door, I saw a panel truck backed up to the loading dock, and Ray’s red pickup nose in, blocking it.  A dim light glowed from the open bay at the back of the alley.
I walked to the light, and climbed the wide, high steps at the edge of the dock, where the fruits and vegetables and cases of canned goods and dry goods arrived every morning early.  The wide space opened out before me as I pulled myself up, with the walk-in at the back, and the door into the deli on my left, its padlock fastened by now.  Tonight, the small work light was on and hanging from the hook next to the walk-in.

And there was Ray, his face half bathed in the glow of the bare bulb. He was standing with two men a little older than he was, Chinese I thought, although it was hard to be sure in the partial darkness.  Stacked up on the dock between Ray and the two men were ten or so oblong crates, about five feet long by three feet wide by two feet deep.  You could see little bits of excelsior sticking out between the planks, which were imprinted with Chinese characters.  Ray was holding a cash bag.  All three of them looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“Hey, Tranquilla.  What brings you here tonight, and back this way?  Everybody’s gone.”

I thought for sure if I opened my mouth I would start stuttering, but I got command of my tongue and answered him like nothing was out of the ordinary. “Oh, I was just off tonight and had finished all my schoolwork.  I thought I’d drop by and see if Jean and Karen needed any help so they could get out on time, and the alley was closer than the door, so here I am.  But everything’s dark after all, it looks like, so I guess I’ll go.”

Ray jumped right in. “Well, these are two of my distributor pals from Sung Lee - you know the ones that stock the Chinatown markets?  They brought over some food items for me to look over and see if I wanted to carry them in the store.  You know, lychee fruit, bird’s nest soup, that kind of thing.  It’s a new market I’m thinking about tapping into – just thinking about it.”

“Hyunh,” added the pals.

“Wow, that’s a lot of stuff,” I exclaimed.  Shelley, you fool, shut up, I thought to myself.  You sound like an idiot.

“It is a lot,” he said coolly.  “It’ll probably take a while to go through it.  We only just got started.”

He looked at me firmly now, a stern, but almost fatherly expression in his eyes, and spoke to me with absolute clarity. “It was really nice of you to think about Karen and Jean like that.  You’re a good girl.  But you go ahead home, now.  Right now.  You hear me?  You shouldn’t just be walking with no real place to go like that after everything’s closed.”

He looked at me hard.  “OK?  Capiche?”

I replied emphatically. “Yes, of course, I’ll go home right now.  So nice to meet you all.  Don’t work too hard.  Bye bye.”  

A small voice at the back of my mind wheedled.  There are lots of jobs, but only one Tranquilla, it said.  Walk away tonight and don’t look back.

Don’t be silly, I replied, almost unconsciously, to the voice.  This is Ray.  There’s nothing wrong here.  So I told the voice to shush.

Somewhere behind me, the flash of headlights rounded the corner, airbrushed soft by fog in the corner of my eye, and behind them a horn, muffled and fading as it passed.

“Hyunh,” said the pals.

Ray, unsmiling, winked at me.  “Good night.  I’ll see you tomorrow, safe and sound.”  

And that was all.

I smiled wanly, turned around, and walked at a natural pace all the way up the alley.  And as soon as I rounded the corner out of sight, I ran all the way home.  

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