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.  

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