Saturday, June 25, 2011

A man of the people

Excerpts from Jacki’s Diary

November 16, 1974

We were talking about the Gang of Eight again today.  Those are the kids that ran off with a truckload of our guns to Montana about a year ago.  They wrote a long letter about things they didn’t like about the Temple, most of it just flagrant attacks on our apostolic socialist principles, but then they accused us of being racist.  They were actually pretty clever about getting away for a bunch of kids; they avoided Highway 101 altogether so our plane couldn’t track them. 

In between talking about the Gang, Jim was beating the “paper idol” on the table again.  Jim says the Bible is the opiate that keeps people oppressed, even though he knows that religion is the quickest way to mobilize people around a cause in this country.  It’s deep in American culture, using the church for social change.  Martin Luther King knew that, but he bought the God thing hook, line, and sinker, and it killed him.  Jim believes that if we hook people with religion, we can wean them from it later when they’ve seen the benefit of the Marxist principle they’re living.  But not if we’re being sabotaged by our own people running away and harassing us in writing.

The day they ran away, Jim called about thirty of us together and freaked out, waving his pistol at us, warning us we’d better not defect.  That’s when he started suicide drills for the PC.  He said that day that we all had to kill ourselves and leave a note saying that we “could not keep a socialist organization together at this time” because of harassment, and that’s why we had to die.  We didn’t actually do it, but we’ve been practicing ever since, pretending to drink poison and falling down dead, just in case we have to lay down our lives some day. 

OK, it gave me the creeps at first, I won’t lie.  But I’m pretty sure it’s really only a dramatic way of making a point.  He’s really just training us to see that defectors can’t prevail against him.  He is too powerful, and his plan is too perfect to oppose.  At least I’m not going to try to oppose him.  I’m not crazy, after all. 

December 21, 1974

Now that Moscone didn’t run for governor, we hope he’ll run for mayor instead.  Somebody like George Moscone, who sees past the capitalist power structure and has a heart for the people, is what San Francisco really needs, and what the Temple needs.  With George on our side, we can do so much more here in the city.  Jim and Tim and Deb and I have already been talking about how George would support our work with the elderly and foster children. 

George Moscone understands the poor because he had a strange childhood, kind of like me but different – his dad was a prison guard at San Quentin and he was pretty much raised by his mom.  When you grow up different, you develop a heart for people who aren’t like everybody else, like it was for me with my dad being military and my mom being a religious fanatic.  Besides, George is connected.
Our girl Bonnie is close to George, so to speak, so we always know what he’s thinking, and we always have his commitment too, because he knows we know, and we have the pictures to prove it.  We are very connected in the city, and my “diversion unit” is an important part of that.  The “unit” is a group of girls I send out to make friends and keep tabs on the politicos, and to “keep them company” when it serves our purpose.  We stay close to all the higher ups, and make sure we keep a record, so to speak, of everything they have going on, with us, or anybody else.  And then they stay close to us and to Jim, because they know we know, but mostly because they respect us.

We always have lots of cash coming in, and lots of travel to keep it put away.  The way I feel about it, the more we have in banks the better.  Jim likes to keep a lot close to him, but that makes me really nervous.  It makes him more nervous to have too much deposited and accounted for, because then people get the wrong idea, and even worse, then you have to pay taxes on it.  Socialism is an uphill battle when you’re trapped in a capitalist society.  Anything you do to care for the people and their assets is viewed as fraud or theft or some other nonsense.  It’s really the capitalists that will defraud you if they have the opportunity to get their hands on your assets, not the socialists.  The capitalists just project their own evil schemes onto us because they don’t understand our motivation:  to free the people from competition and unhealthy dependence on striving to get ahead.  With Father, the people are secure because their assets are in our care, and they don’t have to manage them or worry about them.  And there is no need for greed because everyone has their needs met.  But it takes everyone to make it work, so once you’re in, you’re not going anywhere.  A commitment to Jim is a commitment for life.

We make sure our assets are in small amounts all over, so they are safe from the prying eyes of the people that want to bring us down.  I know where every single bit of it is kept, because most of it I put there myself.  Jim trusts me completely, and he has every reason to.

January 5, 1975

Sometimes I think Jim is getting way out there, but I don’t dare say it, so I try not to think about it.  He has done so much for me, but he just gets so ragged sometimes.  One o’clock in the morning he got us up out of bed – Judy, Linda, Carol, Sandy, and me – because he’s convinced something bad is going to happen to him, that somebody, some force like the press or the capitalist machine, is going to take him out.  So he audiotapes his instructions for how his wife takes over if he dies.  He kept mixing up what day it was, and even what year it was.  He thought it was 1974, and he kept losing his way and having to start over.  Start the whole damn business over, he said.  And then he’d sigh and get pissed off because he couldn’t remember. We hung with him anyway.
There is so much to do, so many people depending on us, we can’t quit now.  Plus everything is so wired as it is, it can’t be stopped.  What we have is huge, thousands of members all over California, busloads rolling to every political event that fits our agenda, and members that will do anything if Jim sends them.  I guess we did a good job.  Now it has a life of its own.  It’s just that seeing Jim so far out there scares me, even though he always seems to come back around, in the end.

*  *  *


It was right before closing on Valentine’s Day, and Bruno and I had a date at The Tide as soon as we closed.  We had skipped snacking on deli stuff for dinner that night so we could split a cracked crab and a bottle of Bolla Soave later on.  That was Petey’s gift to us, Bruno told me, for our two month anniversary and our first real Valentine dinner together; Petey had taken on the role of romantic godfather for us, since we had taken our first steps as a couple on his watch.  The Tide had become “our place,” and in it we had “our booth” and “our song” that Petey always played for us gratis on “our” juke box whenever we came in, “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago.

I was just wiping the slicer down with my back to the counter, and I sensed a customer behind me with the fine hairs on the side of my face.  It was a skill I had picked up with experience.  The deli was tucked in a back corner of the store, out of sight of the cash register and wide open to the loading dock behind the kitchen.  Even though I knew Bruno was in the store and I was safe, I always had a funny feeling in my gut when someone came in this late and I was the only one behind the counter.

A wave of relief came over me when I turned around and saw that it was Valerie.  All the fine hairs on my face laid down and I smiled the Mona Lisa smile.

“Hey, Val.  What can I get for you?  If it’s sliced Monterey Jack and rare roast beef, tell me in advance so I can slice the cheese first, at least.”

She laughed, her eyes and nose crinkling up, showing the little space between her front teeth and making her amazing green eyes disappear.  “You know I wouldn’t do that to you, Shel.  Give me a double piece of the zucchini and tomato frittata with extra Parmesan, and some broccoli and red pepper salad on the side.  Can you sprinkle some sunflower seeds on that?”

“You bet.  Let me get you some Chablis while you’re waiting.”  I poured her a plastic cup of what I had open and got to work on her order.  She sipped and watched me work thoughtfully.

Then an idea seemed to come over her all at once.  “Hey, you know what?  I’m having a little birthday party for my Dad next week, at my place.  Would you like to cater it for me?  I’d also like to have you as a guest, if you’d like to come.  Whaddya say?”

I looked over my shoulder while I grated Parmesan over the top of her frittata, prepping it for a quick flash in the microwave.  “Wow, that does sound like fun.  I should ask Ray, though, before I say yes.  Usually people order catered events through him and he books the chef.”

“No, honey, this would be under the table.  I want just you.  It would be something you did on the side from your own kitchen.  I’d pay you half in advance so you can shop, and Ray would never know about it.  In fact, I don’t want him to know about it.  Or Bruno.”

I looked around the counter to see if Bruno was behind the cash register, and he was up there alone, starting to go through the drawer for any loose ends.  He was far enough away that I knew he wouldn’t hear us, especially with the store stereo still on.

I surprised myself by not hesitating at all. “OK.  I’ll do it.  I could sure use the money.  Under the table?” I asked, a little guilty, but not bad enough to stop me.

“Cash only, just for you.  You come over to my place Sunday morning early and we’ll plan the menu, if that works.  Deal?”

I knew that would work because Graham didn’t get up early Sundays any more to watch Valerie. The breakfast show had been interrupted permanently by curtains, much to Graham’s dismay, sometime shortly after I first met Val in the deli.  He had since taken to watching for her in case she walked home down Hyde to her flat, admiring her legs in the mini skirts she wore to work every day, and imagining what she would do behind the closed curtains after she went inside.  It broke his heart that she worked an irregular schedule and he couldn’t predict her comings and goings.  I was especially glad for Valerie that she had ordered her curtains lined.

“Now just one more thing before I go,” she added.  I handed her wrapped meal to her over the glass countertop and took her empty cup.  Then she leaned toward me, and asked quietly, “Do you have a card for me?”

I stared back at Val like a deer caught in the headlights.  I was pretty sure Val was not on Ray’s list. 

“A card?” I repeated idiotically.

“Yes, hon.  A card.  Do you have a card for me?  I want one, please.”

I had never been a good liar, and this was the first time the need to really lie had arisen at Lighthouse, now twice in one day.

I was frozen briefly, then shifted my eyes to the left and leaned forward to see Bruno hunched down in front of the candy display beside the register, replenishing the malt balls and red hots for the next day, humming and meep-meeping to the music.

In all the months Ray had had me doing the cards, this was the first time Val had asked for one.  I knew, now that I was confronted with it, that I couldn’t lie to her; she almost felt like family to me, what with her living across the street and practically inside our apartment, figuratively speaking.  But then again, Ray and Bruno had been family first.  I had two voices competing for my attention, and right now, neither one was winning.
“Did Ray tell you about the cards?” I whispered.  All I could think about was my instructions – “Only the customers I pick,” he said – and I was already going to “lie” to him about the catering.  Already more lying than I was good at.  And worse, he expected me to tell him if anyone out of the ordinary asked me for a card, and now I would have to lie by omission again by not telling him about Valerie.  But then, she did know the right words, the words Ray told me.  So he must have told them to her.

“I don’t remember if it was him who told me, but I know about them, and I want one,” she replied cooly.  “Do you have a card for me?”

I thought, hard, for a moment.  I had conveniently not given the card game a lot of thought before this.  I had heard the nagging voice, but I had ignored it.  I knew I could not tell Ray about Valerie – my gut told me that could be trouble for her - but I also was beginning to get that if I didn’t give her a card, that could be a different kind of trouble for me.  Valerie, after all, did investigative reports for KPIX.  All at once I felt my face pressed up against the rock, and the hard place flat against my back.
“Sure,” I replied, looking her straight in the eye, then turning to get a card from the cash box wedged into a space under the counter.  “It’s basketball now.  Here you go.”  I passed the card over the glass, and she took it, looking to her right to check on Bruno, then slipping it into her pocket.  “How much do you want to pay?  Do you need a pencil?”

Valerie spoke softly.  “No, I’m good for now.  No pencil.  Don’t say anything to Ray about this, please.  OK?  We’ll talk Sunday morning.  This is not about you, not at all.  OK?”

I said quietly from between clenched teeth, not wanting to know what she meant, “If I knew what the hell I was doing, I might worry more.  Honestly, I haven’t much thought about it.  But I can tell by looking at you that I probably should have.”

“It’ll be OK, trust me.  Just don’t say anything to anybody, not about the catering, or about giving me a card.  This is not about you.  OK?  I’ll see you Sunday, about 7:00 am.  Got it?”

“I’ll be there,” I said flatly, thinking I should have paid attention when Ray crossed the line, a line I had let myself comfortably ignore until now.  But if I had paid attention, what would I have done about it anyway?  I probably would have had to quit my job, and that was not an option with my expenses. 

Mainly on my mind that moment was the reality that I now had to lie to Bruno by omission twice, and on our anniversary.

Suddenly I thought, Jacki knows Ray and Bruno.  I never really thought much about it, but she does, I’m sure of it.  She’s a practical gal – I think I’ll call her and see what she thinks about all of this.  A feeling of relief came over me.  Of course.  Jacki - always reasonable, always calm.

The minute Val left, I checked around the corner to be sure Bruno was busy, then went in the back and tried Jacki from the produce dock phone, hoping to set up a day to meet.  Her number was disconnected.  Three beeps, each one higher pitched than the last.  “The number you have reached is no longer in service.” 

The gradually widening empty place in the pit of my stomach tweaked me, ever so slightly.


Bruno came meep-meeping around the corner just as I was covering the last pan and carrying it back to the walk in.

“Just let me run upstairs and lock up the cash and then we’ll go, hippie girl,” he said as he flew by, taking the stairs two at a time up to the loft, his hair flopping up and down.  I thought about how much I wished I had nothing on my mind but crab, wine, and Bruno right now, like I had twenty minutes before, instead of a brand new knot between my shoulder blades and a minor twitch in my left eyelid.

“Take your time,” I called behind him, rubbing the twitch and taking deep, slow breaths.  It’ll be fine, I told myself.  Nothing to concern yourself about here.  Just like she said.

By the time I had everything put away, turned out the lights, and padlocked the walk-in for the night, Bruno was downstairs and I actually felt quite calm.  After all, I trusted these guys, and they trusted me.  There was nothing wrong here.  So what if they bent the law here and there?  These were good people, and they had been good to me.  If Valerie wanted to see if she could find something to report on, that was her job, one she needed to do on her own. 

Bruno and I headed out for The Tide in the little red pickup, and Petey was there to greet us in his grandest, most godfatherly fashion.  There was a big cut glass vase of long-stemmed red roses at our special table, and within seconds after we cleared the doorway, our song was playing on the little jukebox.  Petey bowed low with his white kitchen cloth draped over his arm, the Soave sitting in an ice bucket at the table, and said, “At your service, miss.”

“You are one of a kind, Petey,” I said.  “You are the best.  Molto grazie.”  I smiled him the smile, extending my hand for him to bow over, and then sliding into the booth as he uncorked the wine.  “Prego, prego, è niente,” he replied, shaking his head and bowing.  He popped the cork and poured into two wine glasses he had been holding criss-crossed by the stems.  “My goombah here is showing some taste for a change, and I have to reward him for this.  My pleasure, believe me.  Scusa, bellissima.  I’ll go get your bread.”  Bruno punched him in the arm as he bowed and backed away, and the two burst out into a flurry of fake boxing moves and “stunad” and “oobatz” before Petey made his escape.

Bruno focused on me now, taking my hand and looking quizzically into my eyes.  “Cosa c’è, Tranquilla?  What’s wrong?” he asked, patient and concerned.  “You worried about something?  Non te preoccupare.  OK?  Cosa c’è?”

I shook my head and closed my eyes, tipping my head back.  Then I looked at him, and answered, “It’s nothing, love.  I just have a big project at school.  It’s getting close to the end of the quarter and I have a twenty print portfolio due in three weeks.  I have plenty of time.  It’s just that right now I have a lot of pictures and no ideas for a theme.”  All true.

He broke out in a big grin.  “Is that all?  And I thought you were mad at me or something serious like that.  Ok, then, how can Bruno help?  Whatchu got pictures of?  We’ll think of a theme.  How about bodybuilders?  You can start with me,” he joked, straining the short sleeve over his bicep by flexing the softball sized muscle, turning his fist back and forth and meep-meeping like a crazy man.  Petey came by with a crusty loaf of sourdough and a ramekin of soft butter, popping Bruno on the head and crying out, “Cover it up, finook!”  Bruno slapped him on the forearm with the back of his hand.

“I actually thought about that,” I said.  “Is there an event coming up soon around here that I can shoot?  What does that mean, finook?”

“Ey, he’s just calling me a sissy.  The stugatz.  He should talk, the way he . . . never mind.  There’s a big one coming up in the middle of March, the San Francisco Pro Invitational.  Is that in time?” he asked.

I frowned thoughtfully.  “Too late.  I’ve got pictures of people at Lighthouse, and people in here.  You know, characters.  And then I’ve got the zoo, the animal pictures.  Then I’ve got a study I started of hookers in the Tenderloin.  But I only have three or four good ones from that so far.  If I used that, I’d really have to step it up.”

“Nah, let’s leave the hookers alone.  Probally the same for here and the market, leave it alone.  People like to just shop or drink or whatever and have their privacy, if you know what I mean.  I like the animals.  Maybe we go to the zoo on Sunday?  Whaddya say?  We could have breakfast first.  Go to Mass with me.”

Holy crap, I thought, now comes the lie.  Here I am dancing around what’s wrong and now I’m face to face with the lie.  And him sitting in Mass while I’m living the lie.

Just as I was about to fabricate some barely credible piece of fiction about what I had to do Sunday morning instead of being with Bruno, in walks State Senator George Moscone, and I was saved.  I always knew I liked that man, a real man of the people.  The news of his arrival advanced like flames in dry brush through the whole establishment.  Petey; most of the kitchen crew and wait staff from the neighboring restaurant that the bar belonged to; and the owner of the whole operation were all at once, seemingly by magic, out front in the bar in a pretty row.  The owner, Oriano, a powerfully built swarthy little man no more than five foot seven in elevator shoes, stepped out in front and extended his hand to Moscone, wiping his hands on his pants first.  Bruno watched the pageantry with an amused smile, exchanging nods with Moscone, while I just stared big-eyed.

“Eeyy, Georgie!  Come stai?  You look good!  Eeeyyy, let me look at you . . .” Oriano threw out his arms and grinned.  He and Moscone shared a big bear hug, slapping each other on the back, the Senator having to lean over a little to get a grip on Oriano’s short frame.

“Oriano, my friend, always so good to see you.  Can I have my usual?” Moscone asked, nodding toward the booth behind Bruno.

“My home is yours. Can we sit a moment?  Pietro, the Senator’s usual, andiamo.”

“First, let me say hello to your staff and greet your nice customers,” Moscone said, turning to the aproned receiving line across from him, smiling at each one with his big soft eyes and shaking hands, saying a little something personal to each one.  “Eeeyy, Angelo, how’s your beautiful mama?  Give her my best.  Come sta, Vito?  Gimme a hug.  Good evening, I don’t believe we’ve met.  Paolo?  Molto lieto, Paolo.  Ciao, Adriana.  You’ve done something wonderful with your hair.  How’s the baby?”  A man of the people.

When he was finished, he turned to us and thrust his hand into Bruno’s, wrapping his other hand around and pumping it like they’d met many times before.  Moscone slipped into our booth next to Bruno just as Petey arrived with the drink.  “Johnny Walker Red, over, Senator, the way you like it.  Salute,” Petey said, as he dropped the drink in front of Moscone.  “I’ll run across and get you a fresh crab, Tranquilla, scusi,” he said, dashing out the door.  Oriano appeared behind Moscone’s shoulder with a platter of orange colored melon slices wrapped in prosciutto.

“Ah, melone e proshut, my favorite.  You are a good man, Oriano.  Bruno, a piece for you and the lady?  I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” Moscone said, looking over at me now.

“Senator, this is Shelley Hobson, the brains behind our deli.  You know the deli Ray put in a couple years back.  Well, Shelley here – we call her Tranquilla because she’s so sweet -”  He paused to  look at me and smiled as he said this, his eyes warm and trusting. 

“Tranquilla here jumped in and made it special with her delicious recipes and her pretty smile.  She’s an art student, too – she takes pictures.  And she’s gonna be a teacher when she’s done, for high school kids.”  He seemed almost proud of me.  I felt touched, and guilty.

“It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Shelley.  Bruno here is a good man.  And, it seems to me, you are very special to him!  Eeeyy, Bruno, it looks like you did good with this one.  I’m proud of you.  To the lady, salute,” and he raised his Johnny Walker Red, each of us raising our glasses of Soave in response. 

“Salute, to my Tranquilla,” Bruno replied, glancing over at me warmly, and we all took a sip.  Then Bruno went on, “And here’s to your future in politics, Senator, only the best because you are the best.  Salute.”

“Salute,” we both replied, with sips all around.  “So it’s official, George?  You’re running for mayor?” Bruno asked.

“Yes, Bruno, I’ve decided to run.  I’m going to announce officially within the next week or two, and I’m hoping you and Ray will be with me.  Our good friend Jim Jones has already committed the Peoples Temple to the cause, as well as Cecil B. at Glide, and I’m hoping Oriano here will be behind me, too.  It’s going to be a battle – Barbagelata is strong with the high-rollers, as you know.  But that’s not why we’re here.  We’re all about the grass roots, Bruno, you and me.  We’re in it to protect the ones who can’t protect themselves.  It’s going to take all of us.  Can I count on you?”

Tears were welling up in Bruno’s eyes.  Suddenly I felt my heart doing a complete flip, falling hard into love, where before I had been languishing in mere amusement.

Bruno looked the Senator straight in the eye, turning fully to face him so there was no mistake about his commitment.  “My loyalty is yours, Senator.  Whatever you need, you call me.  Whatever it might be.  The pleasure will be mine.”

“I understand, Bruno.  You’re a wonderful friend.  I don’t know where I would be, especially on the road to Sacramento the way I am right now, without friends like you back at home.  You know my heart really belongs right here in the city, where the people are, instead of running back and forth on the freeway all day and night.  And I miss my wife, Godammit!”  He looked at me and then shared a grin with Bruno, and winked.  And when Bruno turned his grin on me and winked, I blushed from head to toe.

“Alright, you two,” Moscone said, standing.  “I’ll let you lovebirds get back to your dinner while I do some business with Oriano here.  You take care of her, Bruno, you hear me?” the Senator admonished him, tilting his chin down and looking straight across into Bruno’s eyes.

“You have my word.  And don’t forget what I said before, OK?” Bruno replied.

“I won’t, Bruno.  You tell Ray, a più tardi, OK?”  Bruno nodded, and Moscone slid into the adjoining booth across from Oriano, who had been waiting there for him, and they quickly fell deep into whispered conversation.

I suddenly felt overwhelmed by a feeling of relief.  If the Senator and Ray, and even Bruno, were good friends, then I was worrying about nothing, just like I thought.  All at once I was overcome with trust and a sense of family like I hadn’t felt in a long while with Graham, not since we had started living as friends instead of lovers, and especially now that Bob was getting so close to graduation and had begun spending almost all of his time with Scott.  I was beginning to feel that maybe I had found in Bruno what I had been looking for, someone who loved me for me, someone who really cared about other people instead of just himself, and who could fill that empty space inside of me that nothing and no one so far had been able to fill.  Maybe I was finally home.

Meanwhile, a whole pink Dungeness crab arrived at the table with hand towels, picks, lemons, and a bowl of melted garlic butter.  Petey set down two plates in front of us, and said, “This is my gift to the two of you, who fell in love right here in front of me.  Buon apetito, my friends, enjoy.”  He bowed, and for once Bruno did not smack him, but replied warmly, “You are a good brother to me, Pietro.  Molto grazie.”  Petey was right:  I had fallen in love right there in front of him, but it hadn’t been two months ago.  It had been that same night. 

As Bruno dug into his crab claw, he turned his attention back to me.  “So tell me, Tranquilla, can you meet me for breakfast Sunday morning, maybe about 7:00?  Or maybe you can come over to my place, and Mama will fix us something.”

With all the panic and confusion gone, my head was very clear.  I simply told the truth.  “I already promised Valerie I’d have breakfast with her Sunday morning, babe.  She and I have kind of become friends, you know.  And I promised I’d help her plan for her Dad’s birthday party.”

“Absolully, sweetheart, I understand completely.  You know Ray has a special fondness for Valerie, too.  I’m glad the two of you are becoming friends.  Maybe Ray will give you the afternoon off one day this week, and you and I can go to the zoo after you get out of class.  Not to worry about the pay – I got you, bella. Do you want me to ask him for you?”  He looked at me, almost puppyish even with those arresting ice-blue eyes.

“Would you guys do that for me?”  I asked, touched.

“Anything for famiglia, bella.  And that’s what you are to me.  Don’t you forget it.”  He clenched his fist and put it over his heart, and said “meep-meep.”

I melted into laughter.  “Whaddaboutit?  What?” he said, putting his two hands up in the air, his eyes wide.

“You are adorable,” I said.  “I would go anywhere with you.  You pick the afternoon, as long as I don’t have class.  It just needs to be this week so I have time to develop and print and get everything into mattes.  You can be the animal in some of the pictures.”

“You gotta deal, baby,” he said, licking the juice from the crab and the butter off his fingers and washing it down with a little wine.  “It’s good you’re all better now.  Because I want to invite you back to the store with me.  I have something for you in the loft, if you want it.  If you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean.  And yes, I want it.  Absolully.”

I fed him a little piece of crab and he winked at me, and we finished our meal, chatting happily, looking forward to what we might find in the loft.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

When the moon hits your eye

Hyde and Vallejo, Chestnut and Jones

“Dogs are wise.  They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.” – Agatha Christie


As fall approached and I rooted myself at my new school in the City, my separation from Berkeley became final, and with that separation, my relationship to Bob took on new dimensions, deeper and better now that the daily jangle of life’s details no longer interfered with it. 

My relationship to Graham, however, even though I had finally laid down the baggage I picked up the day I found the letter from Lois, seemed somehow stripped of depth.  And while certainly a warm familial commitment remained, the intimate commitment to sacrifice, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, was gone.  It had left the building right behind till death do us part. Thus we became the kind of crabby, loving roommates that siblings make.

I found my life spiraling outward from the apartment at Hyde and Vallejo, just as Bob’s life had already spiraled out from Moraga and was beginning to spiral out even from American soil.  Scott, now Bob’s academic advisor instead of his teacher, in addition to being his lover, had a connection in Paris that would result in a job for Bob soon after he finished his BA in romance languages.  The president of the Banco di Roma, whose home was in Paris, had a chauffeur who was getting married in July and planning a permanent move to Greece.  The job was Bob’s, if he wanted it, starting July 1, 1975.  His dream had come true:  he was going to be a European, a free man in Paris.

Graham had developed an obsessive imaginary relationship with Blondie.  He seemed to genuinely enjoy watching whatever she did in the window now, either dressed or naked.  She represented for him, he told me, unattainable female perfection - the key word being unattainable - that allowed him to rationalize that real, sweaty, effort-filled relationships were somehow unsavory, and therefore not for him.  His voyeurism made life much easier, to be sure, both for him and for me.  While photography was now Graham’s perfect medium, he rarely had time even for it any more, what with the world of eight to five pulling at him.  And even Lois had become history.  These were not conscious choices, but they were shaping who he was.


One dinner hour while I was behind the counter at the deli, where I had more time to spend now that I wasn’t commuting four hours a day, I was fixing Armistead his favorite hot dish, vegetable lasagna with Boudin bread and butter on the side.  He was due in a couple of minutes and wanted it warm when he got there so he could run home and write a chapter for “Tales of the City,” which still didn’t feature me in it anywhere.  I was just wrapping the foil around his meal when Ray came up.

“Hey, Shel, here’s somebody I want you to meet.  Valerie, this is Shelley, the one who makes your favorite blintzes every Saturday.  Shel, this is Valerie.  She’s a producer for KPIX.”

I said with my warmest voice on, reaching over the glass to shake her hand, “Pardon my fingertips, Valerie; they’re a little olive-oily.”

“Funny, you don’t look like Olive Oyl,” she replied, both of us laughing as she grabbed my hand and winked.

“Well, I can see you two need no further introduction here,” Ray said with gruff amusement, rubbing Valerie on the shoulder blade.  “Take good care of my Val, now, Shel.  Anything she wants tonight, it’s on the house.”

“You got it,” I said, setting Armistead’s lasagna on the counter behind me and wiping my hands with a cotton towel.  “Val, what can I fix for you?  This chicken divan casserole melts in your mouth, and it’s great with the broccoli red pepper insalata.”  She was nodding and grinning as I spoke, so I continued my pitch.   “I’ll pour you a little Pinot Grigio while you’re waiting.  Sound good?”

“You sold me.  Some of that.”  She weaved her fingers together backward and stretched her arms in front of her, yawning out loud.  “MAN, it’s been a long day.  Do you live nearby?”  Just then Armistead walked up and threw his arms around Valerie.

“Val, sweetheart, you look great.  What a doll!  Let me look at you.”  He held up her hand and gave her a twirl. “I hardly see you any more.   Don’t they ever let you out from that sweat shop they call a TV studio?” he chit chatted. 

I slid his dinner up on top of the glass case while I was pouring Valerie’s wine, and he rolled his eyes, giving me a big happy sigh, and patted it.  “Here’s some for you too, Armistead,” I said, pouring a second clear plastic cup and setting them both on top, turning to pull together Valerie’s dinner.

The two of them chatted aimlessly, and then Armistead quaffed his wine, gave a tiny wave with his fingertips, and went home with his lasagna for company.  Valerie picked up where she left off.

“So are you from around here?  There’s got to be more to the deli girl than just deli, with blintzes like that,” she probed.

“You ARE a newswoman, aren’t you?  OK, I go to the Art Institute – you know, just over the hill.”  She raised both eyebrows at me and smiled, tilting her head. 

“Yeah, I’m a photography major,” I went on.  “I’ve taken some shots for the Berkeley Gazette, so that makes us both newswomen.”  We both laughed. 

“And I live right around the corner on Hyde, between Vallejo and Green, right across from that little park.”

She fell silent.  “Really?” she asked, emphasis on the “real.”

“Yeah,” I replied my answer curving up on the ends, like a curious smile.  “Why, do you live around here too?  I live in the gold building, 1555.”

“Really!  I live right across the street from you!  Well, right next to the park, on the Vallejo side.”

Now it was my turn.  “Really?” I asked, turning slowly, now taking in her strawberry blonde hair, her pale freckled skin, her alarming blue eyes, and – the fact that she was stacked.  The look on my face had to be as transparent as Blondie’s picture window.  “What floor?”

“Third,” she answered, then paused.  She took in the expression on my face, and suddenly got very, very pink.  “Can you . . .”

“I’m afraid so,” I said sheepishly.

“Oh, NO.  I knew it, knew it, knew it, knew it, knew it!  I KNEW it!  Crap.  I knew I shouldn’t have put off ordering those curtains.”  She was grinding her fingertips into her eyes, red with embarrassment.

“Don’t be silly,” I said.  “I’m sure I’m the only one who’s ever seen you.  Both of the men that hang around my place are oblivious.”

“MEN?” she exclaimed.  “Please, not men.”

“I’m afraid so.  But like I said, I’m completely sure I’m the only one who’s ever seen you.  Still, I wouldn’t delay on getting those curtains, and in the meantime, I’d dress in the living room and pee in the dark.”

“Oh my GOD!” she said.  “It’s a good thing we met, because I wasn’t in any hurry.  I thought I was the only one up that early.”

I thought it was best not to mention that she was definitely NOT the only one up at that hour, and that Graham had adjusted his sleep schedule just to watch her.  And naked or dressed, she had become the woman of his dreams.  Probably best left unsaid.


 One cold Sunday night soon after, Ray came around behind the counter when I was just shutting down.  I had wiped off the meat slicer, which was now sparkling, and was headed back for the kitchen to start a batch of spinach ravioli with garlic cream and parsley to round out the leftover chicken divan and steak and kidney pie we already had for the next day.  I was contemplating whether I had time to add a batch of pan-fried mashed potato patties with scallions when he walked around and asked me to sit at the counter with him.

“But first, gimme a pound of extra rare roast beef,” he joked.  Rare roast beef was the only thing filthier to slice than Monterey jack cheese, which left a thick scum of creamy white all over the surface of the slicer and sticky globs lodged behind the viciously sharp blade that had to be carefully scoured out until there was no trace left.  Rare roast beef was just a pure bloody mess.

“You’re kidding, right?” I said, eyeing my spotless slicer, but still ready to grab the joint of beef and start over.

“Of course I’m kidding, bella.  I wouldn’t do that to you.  I would do it to Jean, but not to you.”  We both chuckled.  Poor Jean.  “Let’s sit.  You want some wine?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, and went over to the walk-in to grab the Cabernet I had uncorked that afternoon, pouring us both a glass.

“Here, Tranquilla, Let me show you something.  We’re going to add a little game of chance – kind of like a raffle - for our favorite customers.  Because we want to make it special, you know, so they know how much we appreciate them, we are going to keep it elite.  Only certain customers can play.”

“That sounds like fun, Ray.  How will I know which ones get to play?” I asked, intrigued.  Ray really knew how to treat his customers - that’s what he and I had in common, that we loved people and knew how to make them feel like they were the one most special favorite customer of all time.  That’s why they always came back, and why Lighthouse was as much of a place to be as it was a place to shop.

Ray laid out a handful of white printed cards on the counter with small type and started explaining.  I leaned over and looked at the cards very hard, trying to connect what Ray was saying to what I saw.  On each card there was a list of football teams, one team vs another team, and after the team names on each line, two numbers, like 6-5, or 4-10.  Ray described something about a point spread and a parlay, none of which made sense to me.  But, OK by me.

He went on. “So I’ll give you a list of people who get to play, and if somebody asks for a card, you just glance over at the list kind of quiet and make sure they’re on it.  If they’re not on the list, just act like you don’t know what they’re talking about, because you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.”  I thought to myself, not to worry, I can promise you I won’t know what they’re talking about.  He continued. 

“If they’re not on the list, just say, ‘If you’re looking for greeting cards, they’re over on aisle two.’  Or something, depending on what they say.  Real natural.  Then after they leave, tell me.  That’s important, OK?  Because that might be one of our best customers some day.  Capiche?  The only ones who should even ask you are the ones I tell about it, and they’ll just ask quietly, ‘Do you have a card for me?’  You got all that so far?”

I looked at him blankly probably about a second too long.

“Alright, so do you get it?” he asked again.  “Ask me a question or something.”

“Well – not really,” I had to admit.  “But if you tell me exactly what to do, I can do it.  I probably just wouldn’t be good to play it, or to teach anybody to play.  I’m not great at math games.”

He stopped for a minute, looked down and then back up, and smiled at me broadly.

“You know what?  That’s OK!  In fact, that’s better.  A lot easier.  Just do this:  when somebody says, ‘Do you have a card for me,’ you just give them a card.  If they say anything else at all, play like you don’t know.  And fuggetabout the list.  Too much trouble.   I’ll just make sure they say exactly, ‘Do you have a card for me?’ and nothing else.  So they have to say exactly that.  By the time they ask you, they will know how to mark it, because I’ll tell them how when I put them on my list.  Just remind them to circle all the teams, each one they want.   And then you take their card and their money, cash only, and you put it in this box.”  He pointed to a plain metal cash box he had set at the end of the counter.

“Can I make change?” I asked, now in a territory I could wrap my mind around.

“You sure can!  Good question, Tranquilla.  Everyone will pay a different amount.  Most people will only pay a dollar or two, but once in a while you’ll get somebody who wants to pay a lot.  They’re going to give you back their card when they pay you, and they have to mark what they paid you on the card right after the point spread.  See?  I’ll make one for you.  Every card should look something like this.”

He circled a couple of teams, one team at a time, on the card, and wrote an amount after each one in the space to the right.  “When they give you the money, check to make sure it matches the amounts they put on the card, all added up, and put the card in the box with it, under the tray.

He paused, looking at me to see if I understood.

“OK now, Tranquilla?”

I looked at the card.  “This, I can do.”  Something in this moment reminded me of the night at the loading dock, and I felt a tiny jab at the back of my brain, but I decided to ignore it.

He raised both his eyebrows and smiled.  “It’ll be fun, like a little special treatment for our best people.”

I smiled and nodded.  “One more question:  how do I know if they win?”

“You don’t have to worry about that at all.  If they come in and tell you they won, you just buzz me and I’ll be right down.  All prizes are claimed from me only.  If they don’t win, they might want to see me, too, depending.   Just buzz me, and I’ll come down.”

Way at the back of my mind, right where I had felt the jab, a small voice nagged at me.  This sounds a little like gambling, it noticed.  Might it be illegal, it inquired?  I considered the voice, there at the back of my mind.  Then I made a conscious, but only barely conscious, decision to ignore it again.  It flickered past me, disembodied, like sudden headlights in the fog rounding a corner, in front of a horn muffled and fading as it passed.  I decided not to stop, look, or listen.

“What if you’re not here?  What do I do then?” I wondered, a little worried, but not overly.

“I will always be here when it’s winning day, always.  Don’t you worry.  If I get sick or something, I’ll train Bruno just in case.  OK?”

I smiled and took a deep breath.

“OK!  When do we start?”

“Thursday morning.  I’ll leave you two bundles of cards in the cash box.  Don’t forget, ‘do you have a card for me?’  Don’t forget.”

And so my days as a hapless bookie began, to continue the entire remainder of my time working at Lighthouse.  To this very day, I still can’t wrap my mind around a point spread, let alone a parlay, whatever that is.  And it took a bolt of lightning to the head before I admitted to myself that I had even been a bookie at all.


The store was empty except for me and Bruno one December Saturday night, with lights already turned out everywhere but the kitchen, the loft, and the night lights in the front window.  It was starting to get cold, and you could almost see your breath in front of your face even inside the store now that the heat was off for the day.  I was hurrying to finish up for closing, lost in thought over my work, picking out recipes for the  next day so I could grab the freshest ingredients early before the customers came in.  Bruno and I had been bantering back and forth all day, him “meep meep” -ing around the deli like my shadow; and me noticing his antics more than he realized, tracking his every movement with my eyes, smiling my Mona Lisa smile whenever he noticed me noticing him.

“Merry Christmas, Tranquilla,” he whispered, suddenly out of nowhere, his lips barely touching the back of my hair. 

I gasped and wheeled around, the shock of his unexpected presence, the unfamiliar heat of his breath near my ear, and his granite body behind me causing the fine hairs on the side of my face to stand up.

He laughed as my chestnut mop whipped into his face, catching him in the mouth.  I had been leaning over a little file box in front of the pass through, studying a recipe card, when he had sneaked up and abruptly planted his hands on the counter around me, sheltering me in the space he created.  He let go of the counter as I turned, and backed up, grinning at me.

“You smell nice, bella,” he said.  “What is that?”

“Irish Spring and Tide,” I flirted.  “If it smells like more than that, it must be my natural sweetness.”

“Awwh, you beat me to it,” he joked, pressing his clenched fist into his heart like I’d shot him there.  “So tell me, Tranquilla, do you still have to stop and think about Graham whenever you see me?”

We stood there staring at each other for a moment, the air between us thick with surprise and the electricity of emerging connection.  I looked him over thoroughly as he calmly observed me, waiting for me, while I took in his skin, the thick, loose black hair that he was constantly smoothing out of his eyes, those eyes, like ice but somehow warm, eyes that penetrated deep to the center of me and melted there, leaving something of his behind that didn’t go away.  And the well muscled frame that I didn’t dare look at, not yet.

“No,” I said simply.  “No, I don’t.”

“Well, good for me,” he said huskily, a slow smile still playing around his lips as he held my gaze.  He cleared his throat. “So here I go.  Can I take you out for a drink tonight, bella?  You know I missed your birthday, and I have something to give you I’ve been keeping.  I’ve been waiting, you know, until you didn’t, you know, have anything on your mind any more.  You know what I mean.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  My 21st birthday had been in October, and even though he and I never talked about Graham, he knew that my heart still ached from something back then, from whatever that thing was that had been hovering over me when he and I shared the bottle of Chianti months ago, the thing I couldn’t tell him about.  And he had waited for my eyes to clear and my heart to lighten all this time.  He had known just the right moment, to the day and hour, when it was time, not a moment too soon, or too late.

I took in a breath. “OK.  Right now?”

“No, next week. Yes, hippie girl, right now.  Can I help you clean up?”

“No, you goof, we’re already clean.  I’ll think about recipes later.  I want a Kahlua and cream.  Two.”  I fake-punched him in the jaw, and he craned over backwards like I’d really jabbed him.

“Oww, Tranquilla, you knock me out.  You can have as many as you want.  I got you.”
We walked the grocery aisles together, looking for items out of place or fallen; then he locked down all of the outside doors and turned out the lights in the kitchen and the loft.  He came back out to grocery, where I was still waiting between the canned fruits and vegetables and the bread aisle, up by the cash register.  He stopped about eight feet back and stood, hands in his pockets looking at me.  His left eye twitched a little, and a smile broke across his face.   He approached me slowly, reaching up and weaving his hand into my hair as soon as the length of his arm would allow.  His fingers came gently around the back of my head, pulling me toward him, bringing my face to within inches of his, his eyes boring into mine.

“I’ll arm the store and meet you at the truck,” he whispered.

 Once we were bouncing along in the little red market pickup, the newness melted away again, giving us the respite of our old easy friendship and gossipy chatter to fall back on.  The conversation came in a flood, almost like a reaction to the intense silences of moments ago: what were Ray and Nannette doing for Christmas; was he giving bonuses, or a party at his big house in San Bruno.  We all loved parties at Ray’s house because he had a home version of Pong, a computer ping pong game that was built into a game table where the top should be.  We would sit around that thing for hours until our brains shut down.  He was going to add Pac Man to it for his two little ones for Christmas, and we were trying to talk him into putting one up in the loft. 

As we got closer to the wharf and could see Alioto’s Restaurant in the distance, Bruno told me word was that two Italians were going to run for mayor, and we debated who our favorite of the two likely contenders would be, Moscone or Barbagelata.  We were kind of leaning toward Moscone, a man of the people who didn’t hide out in his St. Francis Wood home, but spent time in the stores and cafes of the city’s neighborhoods, keeping tabs on people.  Plus he had been majority leader of the State Senate, while Barbagelata had just been a Supervisor, and Willie Brown liked him. And I liked Willie.  He used to give parties for us poster factory kids, since we worked for his friend Jeff, another man of the people.
Solidly back in our comfort zone together, we pulled into the narrow alley beside The Tide, a little bar right down on the wharf where it turned out Bruno was connected.  That meant when he walked through the door, the owner came out and said, “Eeyyy, Bruno, goombah, come stai?” and patted Bruno on both shoulders with his hands.  It also seemed to mean that Bruno could park wherever he wanted, avoiding the need to circle the block countless times to wait for a space to open on the street, or to pay the freight for a garage space and walk.

“Eeyyy, Pietro, non c’è male,” he replied, gathering up the broad-chested barman in a bear hug and patting him on the back.

“So who’s da dish, my friend?” our host asked, wiping his hands on his apron as Dean Martin sang “C’e la luna, mezz’o mare” from the little nickel jukebox in the booth next to where we stood.

“This, my friend, is Tranquilla, of whom I have spoken many times.  Or Shelley, to you.  Shelley Hobson.  Shelley, this is Pietro.  You can call him Petey if you want, or whatever.”

I extended my hand to shake, and Pietro took it in his and turned it, backside up, raising it halfway to his lips and bending down as if to kiss it, but just bowing low over it instead.

“My honor, Miss Shelley.”

“You’re a gentleman, Pietro.  So nice to meet you,” I said lowering my eyes shyly.

“It’s good you didn’t kiss, goombah, cause you should not be gettin’ spit on the lady,” Bruno cracked, and they both chattered off something in Italian, laughing and punching each other in the chest, faking heart attacks in turn.

“OK, Tranquilla, let’s sit.  Petey, can we sit here?” Bruno asked, nodding his head to where Dean – no, Dino – was crooning.

“Be my guest.  My house is yours,” Pietro replied, sweeping his arm across the front of himself like a doorman.

“You are too kind.  No, exactly kind enough – meep meep!” said Bruno, taking my hand and ushering me into the booth.  “One large White Russian for the lady, and a Michelob for me.”

“You 21, paisan?  Just kidding,” joked Pietro, laughing in strange little barks.

“Shaddup, stunad.  Bring a frosted glass, OK?”  Bruno smiled and shook his head.  “We love each other like brothers,” he said to me as Pietro went for the drinks.  “We went to high school together and he graduated a coupla years before me so he likes to bust my balls.  Excuse me, give me a hard time.  You look beautiful, by the way, deli girl.  But that little aroma of mortadella behind your ear I like the best.”

I wadded up a napkin and threw it at him, just as Pietro brought the drinks.

“Kids, kids, let’s keep it quiet in the house now or I’ll have to call the authorities.”

“Funny guy.  This is a funny guy,” remarked Bruno winking, cocking his thumb toward Pietro.  “You make me laugh, Petey.  Now make like a tree.”

“You are a tree,” said Pietro, snapping Bruno on the shoulder with a kitchen towel and scuttling back over behind the bar, with that same rolling shuffle Bruno meep-meeped around the market with.

“You guys almost look like brothers,” I observed, looking around the place and taking in the waterfront paisano ambience.  The tables were thick with lacquer over brightly colored Italian ads for Campari, Galliano, Coca-Cola, San Pellegrino, and Bolla Valpolicella and Soave.  The entire back wall was tight with bottles stuffed into shelves, with liquers, syrups of every flavor and color, and sparkling waters packed in alongside the Johnny Walker Red and Black and the Wild Turkey.  There were mirrors all the way around, making the tiny space look three times its size, and the booths along both walls were upholstered in alternating tufted stripes of shiny, thick red and green vinyl.  The little juke boxes on each table top had a mix of current hits and Italian standards, including C’e la Luna, Volare, and Oh Marie, Bruno’s favorites.  I knew this because he liked to sing little bits from them when he was meep-meeping around. 

But the best part was the sidewalk outside, now dark and covered over with canvas for the night, where the crab pots boiled during the day on either side of the glass cases, filled with whole cracked Dungeness, shrimp, calamari, oysters, clams, and whatever came back fresh from the traps and nets that morning.  Wooden barrels full of French loaves, Colombo and Boudin and Francisco, stood out front, inviting you to grab something in white paper with a plastic cup of wine along with your loaf, and dine by the water.  I had only ever walked this sidewalk as an outsider, but being here with Bruno made me feel like I had more cousins on a new side of town now, where I never had before.

Pietro walked up with a tray. “Here’s your drinks.  Enjoy, brother.  You call if you need me, Shelley, OK?  Don’t you let this one give you a hard time.”

“I can take care of myself.  Besides, he’s a good boy for me,” I replied.

“We’ll see,” said Pietro, winking and walking away, Bruno whacking him on the forearm as he turned.

“A character,” said Bruno.  “Is that good, bella?”

“Wow!  It’s strong.  Is that what Kahlua and cream is, a White Russian?”

“Pretty much,” Bruno answered, taking a swig of his beer, eyeing me.  “Do you like it?”

“It gets better with every sip.  Better order another one because this one’s going down.”

“You got it, Tranquilla,” and he raised his arm over his head without turning around.  In seconds I had another one with a fresh tiny red straw and a little square napkin sitting in front of me.  I almost didn’t notice Pietro come up.

“So, Tranquilla, I have a little belated birthday gift for you.”  Bruno took a small square box out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the table.  I felt a little intimidated at the sight of it.

I opened gingerly, and inside tacked to a little loop was one half of a heart with a broken edge, very thin delicate gold, and engraved with what looked like Hebrew letters on the back.

“It’s a mizpah,” he said.  “When I can’t be around to watch over you, you know I have the other half, and I’m thinking of you.  You’ll know I’m always there, always your friend.  See?  I’ll keep the other half with me.”

He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his wallet, opening up the picture section and showing me where the other half was inside one of the sleeves.  “Now you have to give me a picture of you so I can put it in here with my heart.  OK?”

I was touched, and uncomfortable, but not so much that I wanted to push it back across the table.  “It’s beautiful, Bruno, thank you.  I’m going to put it on my chain right now, next to Bob‘s locket.  You know Bob . . .”

“Sure, Tranquilla, I know all about Bob.  Great guy.  I would be proud to share a chain with Bob.”

I took off my chain and added the mizpah, then put it back on and held it up to show Bruno.  “I love it.  It makes me feel very safe.  Thank you.”  I was about two-thirds of the way through my second drink by now.

“You want one more of those, Tranquilla?” Bruno asked, holding up his hand.  Like magic, another one in front of me.  I definitely did not see it arrive this time, and before I knew it, I had finished it.  Bruno, I thought, might still be nursing his first beer.  Or it might be my imagination.


“Hell, no.  I think you’re growing another head.  No, it’s a whole twin.  I might be ready to go home,” I said, holding my hand up to my cheek, wondering why it felt clammy on the outside when it felt so hot on the inside.

“You bet, Tranquilla.  Here, let me help you to the truck,” and he came around beside me and lifted up on my elbow, starting to lead me outside.

“Don’t you have to pay?” I asked wanly.

“No, bella, I have an agreement.  You’re always welcome here now too, and come for lunch if you’re ever down here without me.  Petey’s treat.”  Bruno and Pietro nodded at each other, both of them looking very far away to me, and small.

I was both impressed and impaired.  I tripped a little going over the doorstep.

Bruno poured me into the truck and maneuvered it backward out of the alley, then through the narrow, criss-crossing streets around the wharf, and down Beach over to Hyde, making the long pull straight up the cable car tracks, manual transmission and all, without a single slip or grind, the muscles of his forearm rippling under his taut skin.  It seemed like only a minute to me before he pulled into the alley beside Lighthouse and turned off the engine, probably because, admittedly, I was out of it.  Suddenly it got very quiet in the cab of the pickup, and stuffy.

“Why don’t you come inside with me a while, bella,” he said soothingly.  “We can sit in the loft and talk before you go home to Graham.”

I was thinking coffee actually sounded pretty good and had opened the door of the truck, stepping out into the alley ready to go inside for a hot cup.  But as soon as my feet hit the pavement, I was hunched over, all my snacks from the dinner hour at the deli and the White Russians in a puddle between my feet.

“Aayyy, madone!” Bruno cried out.  “Poor Tranquila.  What have I done to you?”  He scrambled over the stick shift to the other side of the cab, reaching over to pet my hair.  “And to me,” he said to himself more quietly.  “It must have been the vodka.”

“Vodka?!!? What vodka?  All I had was Kahlua and cream!” I moaned, retching up nothingness.

“Well, really Tranquilla, you had a few White Russians.  White Russians have just a drop of vodka in there.  Just a drop.”

“A drop of vodka?!!?  I can’t drink vodka!  Ever since I binged on screwdrivers in high school I can’t drink vodka.  It makes me sick.”

“I know,” he mourned.  “I’m sorry.”

“Well, me too.  But next time don’t do me any favors with drinks, OK?  I’d give you a kiss, but I just had vodka.  Again.”

Bruno moaned softly, tilting his head back. “Ay, bella.  Can I walk you home?”

“What, no ride?  Just kidding.  Yes, you can.  I would appreciate it.  Oh, my head,” I groaned.

“Wait, take these.”  Bruno pulled out a bottle of Coke from behind the seat and a bottle opener, handed me three aspirin from a bottle in the glove box, and popped open the Coke.

“You take these now, and you won’t feel a thing in the morning, I promise.”

I obeyed, and walked around behind the truck, meeting him in the middle of the alley.

“I had fun anyway,” I said.  “And thanks for the drinks.”  I poked him a good one in the chest with my free hand and took a swig of Coke with the other.

He took his jacket off and draped it around my shoulders, taking my hand in his and walking me silently all the way to my doorstep, waiting until the door closed behind me.  And I only had to stop and bend over the gutter twice on the way there.