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Archive for October, 2012

A Downpour of Books

When I was young I would climb my family’s bookshelves like a veritable mountaineer. We used to live on High St., close to UCSC, and I was in the midst of an “ascent” when the earthquake happened. It was of course the one time my mom didn’t know where I was, and she was completely terrified to see me running from a downpour of books. She scooped me up and made for a doorway. We stayed with the neighbors for two days and two nights. From what I understand, barely a word was exchanged. My parents just appeared on their doorstep and hospitality was volunteered. It’s at once heartening and unfortunate that solidarity among humans sometimes requires a cataclysm to manifest itself.

People forget cell phones were not ubiquitous, or even common, and so they didn’t figure into the equation.

By “b c”

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We turned left on Powell Street and came across a young man sitting on the front steps of his building, listening to a portable radio and smoking a Camel, the scene lit by his motorcycle headlight. “What’s new?” we asked him.
“Well, they got the fiuh unduh control in duh Marina,” he said with a New Yawk accent you could cut with a knife. “Brought in a fiuhboat. Pumpin’ fuckin’ seawatuh.”
That calmed us down somewhat. I bummed a cigarette off him, for which Laura gave me a disapproving look, and we chatted a while. He’d only been out here two weeks, and everybody back in the Big Apple had warned him about quakes. “I says, No way, dey ain’t had a real quake in 90 yeuhs. So today I’m comin’ up Kearney Street on th’bike ‘n’ it starts shakin’, ‘n’ I t’nk, shit, a flat, so I pull ovuh, stop, ‘n’ it’s still shakin’. Den a big ass piece a glass comes bombin’ out th’sky ‘n’ misses me by dat much ‘n’ explodes in a million pieces on th’sidewalk. People are screamin’, runnin’ around like crazy. I ducked under a jeep ‘n’ didn’t come out for five minutes.”
Was he going back to New York?
“Heck no, I like it heuh, people are friendly. This happened in New Yawk? You’d get ya fuckin’ throat cut if you stepped outside.”
Why do New Yorkers seem to say things like that with a note of pride? Laura went on to ask him what had brought him out here, was he married, who’d he live with, did he know where the nice parts of North Beach were. We wished him luck and headed for Green Street. “Took rather an interest in him, didn’t you, Dear?” I remarked.
“When you were young and courting me on your motorcycle and didn’t have your pot belly, I took an interest in you,” she answered. But she hooked her arm through mine and laid her head on my shoulder as she said it, and so we walked through Washington Square, past tents and flowers. Ah life, ah romance.
Fire engines roamed the streets, six men to a truck, spotlights probing. We walked by the police station on Vallejo. It was lit, the emergency generator chugging away in the back. We asked a cop if it were true the Marina fire was under control. He said it was. Laura asked him about looters.
“Yeah, they’re out, down in the neighborhoods where the less fortunates live. Better stay off the streets till morning, they’re running around in packs, and they’re working their way up here.”
Anybody who thinks that cops don’t lie lives in a dream world. Still, this gross exaggeration was an effective way to keep people off the streets, and that’s effective police work right there.
Back to Laura’s we hastened. If not timid, we were both tired, and we certainly were starved. Once there, I tried the phone. It worked and I got through to my parents in San Mateo. My mother answered. “Everything all right?” I asked.
“We’re fine. A lot of shaking but no real damage. How’s your place?”
“Place and self doing fine. I don’t know if you tried calling me, I’m at Laura’s.”
“Oh, that’s nice. How is she?”
My mother adores Laura and hopes some day I’ll grow up and marry her. I told her Laura was fine and started to relate details of San Francisco’s night of drama. She interrupted me to advise that we get off the line. It’s not that my Ma doesn’t love me; she’s just practical, that’s all. Emergencies bring out the German sensibility and English coolness in her. It’s my Irish father who goes in for the tumult and drama. She told me not to use the phone more than necessary but do check on my sister Martha who was at Candlestick, oh and do give Laura her love.
I did both. Martha had just got home; she was going to nominate the driver of the 28 Funston for Muni Man of the Month. In a three-hour odyssey with a busload of distraught passengers, he had negotiated his way across town using back streets and got everybody home. He’d even stopped so the beer-swollen sports fans could have a pee break a couple of times. Martha’s place was disheveled, her bookshelf down, dishes broken, fish tank a mess of glass, water, and unmoving Carassius Auratus, who turned out to be the only casualties in my family.
Laura had already talked to her relatives except for Mama. She was in Quebec on a tour with the Italian-American Federation. Just as well: she is a good woman but quite prone to nervousness, and her being out of town was one of the kinder acts of God that day. As it turned out, she didn’t even learn of the quake until the next day because, thank God again, she and her friend Milla could not figure out how to work the TV in their hotel room.
I don’t remember what we had for dinner, probably just tuna sandwiches, but we devoured it ravenously along with a bottle of sauvignon blanc. Sated, Laura went to make some more phone calls and I attempted to correct essays. I couldn’t even focus on them. I sat and thought about fear, fate, fun, and mortality. I looked out her kitchen window toward the dark knoll of Telegraph Hill with its sable silhouette of Coit Tower. I listened to the discordant concert of sirens and helicopters. Then we went to bed, by candlelight, as we had dined. Kind of nice, actually.

– Peter McKenna
San Francisco
16 July 2011

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I ran into some friends of my cousin’s, drank a little wine with them and watched the sun go down. And there was something weird about it, a big red orange blob it was, settling into a faraway fogbank ever so slowly, shimmering above it amorphously like a distant hydrogen bomb (which in fact it is), and when it finally sank below the horizon, by God, there came a green flash, like the blink of a camera bulb.
Then the eeriest aspect of the Quake of ’89 became apparent: not what there was but what there wasn’t, and that was light. They city lay as dark as the forest primeval except for caterpillars of car lights along the main arteries: Market, Geary, Van Ness, Pine, Bush, Franklin and Gough. But that meant more stars than ever were appearing in the night time sky.
Still, I had to get across that Sea of Darkness to North Beach, five minutes as the crow flies, twenty minutes by car in a normal rush hour. How long by motorcycle in a blackout? I felt like Odysseus returning to Penelope. Across the wine dark sea I must set my course, through roiling waves, through pirates and plagues, through demons and dragons, home to my beloved. Of course Odysseus had a little romance along the way too, so maybe I was also thinking of that.
It turned out not too difficult, really. Slightly nerve-wracking but surprisingly smooth considering a couple hundred thousand people were trying to get across a dark town. At stoplighted intersections, people treated them like four-way stop signs as you’re supposed to when they don’t work. The tendency was to wave the other guy through which can get confusing, but traffic moved. However it was noisy if neighborly: people leaned on their horns a lot or blatted out shave-and-haircut or some tympanum. Sometimes volunteers stood in intersections – white guys, black guys, Asian guys, homeless guys – with flares and flashlights, directing the cars: Wait your turn now, brother, now ride it through, brother.
I picked up a hitchhiker at Haight and Lyon and took her as far as Laguna. She was a shorthaired young woman with glasses; no busses were running, she said, and she didn’t want to walk by herself by the Pink Palace Project though she felt safe on a motorcycle with a stranger. Speaking of safety, most of the trip was one calculated risk after another: riding down the center of the street to pass long lines of much slower cars, trusting that drivers saw me before trying the same thing. Residential streets seemed safer than the main thoroughfares though of course they did lead through the projects. But was that a problem? Hell no. Folks on porch stoops, on street corners called out: Yo! What’s happening? How you making out? Ride that hog!
When I got to Laura’s at Mason and Green, she was still in her Subaru listening to the radio. We always greet enthusiastically, but this time I believe we knocked the wind out of each other. She was anxious to move around and for that matter so was I. Wasn’t much else to do without power except sit and talk, and um, that other thing, which we were much too keyed up for, and besides it was too hot.
We walked down Mason, across Columbus to Grant, then up to Union, and thence up to Coit Tower. We met many another couple or group, often with flashlights or candles, finding their way about the unlit streets. There’s something a bit spooky yet romantic about crowds moving in darkness. They looked like pilgrims lost in the catacombs. Up Telegraph Hill, our Golgotha we went, to the Tower and its parking lot embraced by the statue of Cristoforo Columbo. The Tower was closed, the parking lot was about half full, illuminated by headlights, cigarette glows, a rising three-quarter moon, and the burning Marina backlit by the western sky.
Overhead, helicopters were flying this way and that, big ones and little ones, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and KGO, plus that ominous luminous Goodyear gasbag floating above the switched off skyline, those wazzing motors propelling it lumberingly along. We gathered with some other folks around a radio, but pretty soon we got visual as well: the owner of North Beach Pizza showed up with a 4-inch Sony along with a few large house combos, one with anchovies, one without. On the screen was an earnest local newscaster on the most important night of her professional life giving the word:

Lady on TV: We have received reports that the Richter scale reading is 7.0…
Crowd: Wow! No shit! Dig it!
Lady on TV: …and that the epicenter is somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Los Gatos.
Crowd: Santa Cruz! No more Boardwalk! What about the Dipper?
Lady on TV: Let’s go live now to Candlestick where our correspondent is standing by…

Cut to awkward looking sports reporter who must suddenly dispense information not about batting averages but geologic and social upheaval. He mumbles something about the structural integrity of the stadium and the lack of integrity of the looters in the dark beyond. The Coit crowd is appalled: Shoot ‘em! Gas ‘em! Lynch ‘em! The ugliness of real danger, not from Mother Nature but Brother Man, sends fear and loathing among the TV watchers. Not that any of us have seen anything but brotherhood so far. Earlier shots of the stadium shake are shown – the shuddering camera, the picture going dead, and then back again with players and families going about the field: Canseco and his Barbie bride, Clark and his clinging kids, Rueschal hand in hand with his aged Ma and Pa wandering around the pitcher’s mound. Go Big Daddy! someone says. Then comes the news that the Series is postponed indefinitely.
More about the Bridge: everybody has heard rumors of its collapse, but many aren’t sure which one, perhaps both. But from Telegraph Hill they both appear to be standing, the Bay Bridge grey and functional under the rising moon, the Golden Gate reflecting the Marina fire. The TV lady says, “It has been confirmed that a section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge east of Yerba Buena Island has collapsed, opening a hole in the lower deck. Witnesses report several cars plunged into the Bay before traffic came to a halt. Coast Guard cutters and helicopters are searching the waters for survivors. This shuts people up except for the now-common refrain: Unreal. This is like a movie.
Then came the news of the Cypress Freeway collapse, which caused more gasps. Some people, myself included, got the bridge and the freeway mixed up and thought the half-mile collapse was on the Bay Bridge, not Nimitz Freeway. That made it seem more horrible. However there was no confusion about the casualty estimate: over 200 dead, and rising. Then the program cut to the Marina and the fire still out of control due to broken water mains. By that time the smoke had wafted over Russian Hill and was smellable, even breathable.
“Can we go home?” Laura asked.
I said that was a good idea. I was thinking about what would happen if they didn’t get it under control. Would it jump across streets, would it jump Van Ness Avenue, would it work its way across the city, would they dynamite buildings to stop it the way they did in Ought Six, an effort worse than useless? That smoke cloud: would it blind us, choke the very life out of us? Where could we run? Hey, what happened to the party?
We walked quickly down Filbert Street discussing the efficiency of the San Francisco Fire Department. Of course they would stop it, they’ve got emergency reservoirs all over the city, they’ve got backup mains to pipe in seawater, they can waterbomb it the way they do forest fires, oh they know how to fight fires in Frisco, they learned in ’06. Sure, the quake back then knocked down a third of the town, the fire burned another third, and the overeager dynamiters blew up the rest.
Freeways and bridges were closed; perhaps we should get down to the waterfront and steal a boat. That’s when I remembered the Gallant, the USS Gallant, the Galloping Gallant, the marvelous minesweeper docked at Treasure Island, in which I serve as a weekend warrior in the Reserve. It hadn’t occurred to me to check in with them. Perhaps a general recall was in effect, the way they were calling all police, fire, and medical personnel to report for duty. The National Guard was on alert, but the Guard and the Reserves aren’t the same thing, the Guard work for the Governor, the Reserves for the Department of the Navy, and it would take an act of Congress to get us involved. That was part of my rationale for not checking in. The other parts were, what’s a minesweeper going to do in an earthquake, how could I get to Treasure Island other than by swimming, and who needs me more, Laura or the Navy? I knew who I needed more. Still, I almost regretted not putting myself in uniform with sidearm. Hmm, little boys, big boys.

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Will we ever forget what a warm evening that was? One of those hazy, desert heat shirtsleeve evenings that only come to San Francisco during the brief interlude between summer fog and winter rain, the welcome infiltration of Indian summer. People were out and about, talking to neighbors whom they’d done naught but nod to before, if that. The guy in the lowermost flat said he’d been on a ladder painting. He hadn’t fallen, hadn’t even spilled any paint. However he had just finished plastering all the wall cracks and now there were some new ones to deal with.
Down to the corner of Cole and Parnassus, exchanging how ya doins with folks and then Oh my God. It looked like the whole side of this four-story apartment building had just peeled away. All the bricks were in the street or resting on a new blue Honda, making a deep impression. Up and down the Parnassus windows were cracked or broken or just plain gone. The charming outdoor fruit stands of the Cole Valley Market had distributed their plums, peaches, apples, oranges et cetera like jams, jellies, and preserves across the sidewalk. The outdoor displays at Cole Hardware: brooms, rakes, patio furniture, were sprawled on the sidewalk; sacks of fertilizer had broken open, lending a fresh country aroma to the atmosphere. People were lined up on the sidewalk for all those things like batteries you’re supposed to have for an earthquake but probably don’t. “Give us a few minutes to clean up our own mess, folks, we’ll get back to you.” But once the last saleable commodity had been removed from the sidewalk, they shut the door and put up the Closed, Sorry We Missed You sign. Would be patrons groaned.
The Val de Cole Liquor Store was a challenge, perhaps a delight to anyone desiring to savor the bouquet. Fragrances from thousands of bottles of wine, whiskey, beer, gin, brandy, rum, port, sherry, liqueurs, and mixers rose from a glass infested pool six inches deep. Lethal to dive into, on one didn’t need to. Lingering about the entrance and drinking in the aroma sufficed to inebriate. “Do you have insurance?” I asked the Greek proprietor. “Yes, could be worse.” Accompanied by a glum nod, this would be heard often from shopkeepers and property owners in days to come. Of course not all of them did, and the reaction would vary from resignation to rage.
Finnegan’s Saloon was intact and open for business though without TV, cash register, soda gun or juke box. Whiskey Finnegan could provide, and I drank it down while a tattooed Florida native remarked, “Ah moved here fower days ago. Fower days! Ah got sick a hurry-canes, so ah left. Now what the hale!”
Back up Cole to the corner where a cop was stringing red Keep Out tape around the Honda and the brickpile. A crowd had gathered, among them three little children, two boys and a girl, a redhead with glasses who said, “Maybe the Big Bad Wolf did that. Wooooof. Wooooof. Wooooof….”
I couldn’t resist. I turned to one of the little boys and asked sternly, “Did you do that? Did you blow that wall down, young man?”
“No, I didn’t!” the mite replied in all seriousness.
“Did you? Did you?” I asked the others.
“Oh no! We weren’t even here,” the redheaded girl replied. “We were in school!”
I smiled, but they didn’t smile back. Whoops, I thought. Fascinated the kiddies might be, frightened very possibly, frivolous, no. Nothing makes you feel more awkward than a joke misunderstood, especially by kids. They looked at me like I might arrest them for the earthquake, or worse. Kids tend to personalize things. So does just about everybody else, I was later to find out, but that’s another story.
Back home I went, pausing to listen to the radio of a parked car, around which quite a few folks were clustered. The announcers were talking about the confusion at Candlestick, the commissioner canceling the game, the players wandering around the field, wives and children in tow. We heard confused reports of the Bay Bridge collapsing, buildings collapsing, law and order collapsing. Standing around a car radio on Cole Street on a balmy evening, people wandering about, chatting, gawking, generally upbeat though a few teary folks were being comforted: it all seemed unreal. “This is like a Charlton Heston movie,” someone said.
“Charlton Heston parting San Francisco,” someone replied.
At the flat, my roommate Robert was back. I remembered that he’d gone off to work on his car that afternoon, and if there’s one time I never feel fully secure, earthquake or no earthquake, it’s working under a car. Robbie was a little shaky. “I was just about to jack it up, I could have been under it, I could have been hamburger!”
He kept wandering from room to room, examining, sniffing stale beer, repeating himself about the hamburger. Maybe that’s why he’s a vegetarian.
The phone rang, Laura again. Surprisingly she was calmer. I say surprisingly because she is a worrier by nature, about everything from her mother to diseases to nuclear war. She’d been sitting in her car listening to the radio, talking to her neighbors. But she still wanted me to come over. “Get here before it’s dark, please? I’ll be scared if the lights don’t come on.”
So would I, come to think of it. I thought of the New York blackout of 1977. No small business, no solitary pedestrian had been safe, if you believe the accounts. I thought of the traffic nightmare that would surely occur and decided on the motorcycle over the Volkswagen: a little less safety but a lot more maneuverability.
I thought of taking a gun along. I had my .22 pistol handy, but the Browning 9-millimetre was locked in the old Coke machine Thomas stores his camera equipment in. A .22 is a lousy personal defense weapon against anything larger than a rabbit. The Browning is about the same as a .38 and holds thirteen rounds in the magazine. But how to get at it? Shoot the lock off with the .22? Or just pack the .22 and trust in its usefulness in terrorem? Or stop being ridiculous and leave all firearms behind: that’s what I decided. Everybody I’d seen in the last hour had been friendly, much more so than usual, and San Franciscans should not be shooting each other on this of all nights. Anyway, guns usually get you into more trouble than they ever get you out of.
I packed a clean shirt and socks, plus my swim trunks, goggles, and towel for tomorrow’s swim class. I figured it would be business as usual at CSM. Hell and high water wouldn’t stop Dickhead Donner’s swim class, and certainly a little old earthquake wouldn’t. Thus I set out on the ol’ Yamaha 650.
Only damn me if I didn’t take a detour. Sundown was twenty minutes away, Twin Peaks was five minutes away, and I just had to see the city from on high! And so I did. Warm it was even on Twin Peaks; quite a number of folks were up there. I imagine there would have been even without the earthquake, it was such a nice evening.
As for San Francisco, it did not look like Hiroshima by the Bay (a year later, Oakland during the fire did). As a matter of fact it was difficult to tell anything had happened, with one notable exception: the plume of smoke rising above the Marina, black, sinister, climbing higher, expanding wider. Above the pall floated the Goodyear Blimp, neon sign still reading Goodyear…salutes…Giants…A’s…Bay Bridge Series…1989! It looked like an alien spacecraft, one of those silver cigar ships rubes are always reporting, attacking the Land of the Yuppies. “Goodyear’s bombing the Marina!” someone cried.

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Okay, what’s my own story? I was at home at 5:04 pm; my roommates were out. I had just turned on KTVU to watch the Giants-A’s Series. Our old RCA needed a little while to warm up; it never got the chance.
Rumble rumble rumble rumble rumble…
Hmm, tremor. That’ll impress the out of state fans.
Rrrrumble…rumble rumble rumble RUMBLE RUMBLE BANG CRASH SPLINTER
This is not a tremor, f’chrissakes, this is a big dog. Maybe the big dog. What to do?
I got in a doorway, not a conscious process but a gut reaction, evidence of the effect of repeated advice: Get in a doorway, get in a doorway.
And so I did, bracing myself in the frame between the living room and the hallway. It seemed firm enough: that is, I didn’t sense it moving, but I swear to God the walls undulated. Not just shook or rippled: waves went diagonally east to west like the wake of a ship or the muscles of a bellydancer. The photographs on the wall – some black and white geometrical studies, Dhulengari at sunset, roommate Thomas’s nephew – they jumped off. Crash went the glass frames, and I heard it from other parts of the apartment too: crash glass, crash glass, crash glass. Then with an abrupt RUMBL- the shaking stopped. I heard a residual tinkle-bang-boom-boom-CRASH from somewhere and then silence.
The word that kept coming to mind was Doozy. Boy, that was a Doozy! Was that a Doozy? That was a Doozy. I was disappointed my roommates weren’t around. I wanted to share that with somebody.
Behind our building is the Grattan School, nursery through 6th grade (or do they call them nurseries any more? Day care? Preschool?) Normally I can’t stand the little boogers, not for any particular reason other than those you normally hate kids for: their indefatigable energy, their relentless curiosity (always sneaking over the back fence), and the goddam noise! Don’t they ever shut up? No. Do they ever spend time in class or do they just have recess from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.? For eleven hours a day it’s Yaaaaaaaaa…
However by five p.m. they are usually reduced in number from twenty thousand to perhaps twenty, and although twenty make almost as much noise as a thousand fold, I generally feel less murderous towards them. Perhaps that’s why I checked on them. I scooted over to the window, flung it up, and called, “Ok? You all okay?”
Well, the kids were all right though their adult supervisors were a bit freaked out. Young and old were gathered in the handball court away from the swings and slides and such except for one kid who was swinging on the monkey bars. A plump, blonde, visibly agitated woman yelled, “Jason! [or Joshua or Jeremy or whatever his name was] Come off the monkey bars! Jason!” “Won’t!” came the reply. Other boys and girls were laughing and jumping up and down: “Do it again! Do it again!”
None of them had heard me apparently, and other than some overwrought adults, most in the playground seemed fine. I’d have to say the children rather than the adults reflected my own mood, which could be summed up in a loud and juvenile Wow!
The phone rang. This was probably thirty seconds after the last quiver. I answered not with Hello but “Yeah, I felt it.”
“Peter? I’m scared.” It was Laura, which I pretty much expected; I’d been due at her place at six. “I never felt one like that before,” she said, and she’s a native Californian.
“Me neither. Was that a Doozy or what?”
“Are you all right/”
“I’m fine. You?”
“I didn’t get hurt or anything. But I’m scared. Are you coming over?”
“Yes, Sweetie, I’ll be over. What about damage?”
“I don’t see any…”
I was giving her my own damage report as far as the phone cord would stretch: more picture frames, several beer bottles, some unfortunately not quite empty, a Pyrex saucepan when she interrupted with “Babe!”
“What?”
“I just felt another one.”
A second or two later I felt it.
“Peter, will you please come over here right now?”
“Ok, Babe, I will.”
“And don’t go dawdling and sightseeing, please?”
“Sure, Babe.”
Well, what can I say? She shouldn’t have asked that of me; she’s a reporter herself, after all. And I shouldn’t have said Sure. Why can’t we be honest with each other? The first thing I did was take a walk down Cole Street.

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Some time later: a guy loading a truck…
– Your name McKenna?
– Yeah, you’re, um…
– We used to be in school together.
– Oh yeah? San Francisco State? Berkeley?
– No. San Mateo High. Class of ’71.
That was my class even as McKenna is my name. But this guy looked years older than The Kid (although I must confess my self-image still hovers around fifteen). Did the Shake put some new wrinkles in him, ashen a few hairs? He’s a little suspicious, like the Pac News reporter.
– You live down here?
– No, just morbid curiosity. I couldn’t afford the Marina anyway. You?
– Not any more. [Familiar refrain by now] We were right next to the house that slid into Beach and Scott, so we were lucky. But our house is a writeoff.
– Need a hand moving your stuff?
– Could have used you a few days ago, but this is the last load.
– Your house is still standing, right? Couldn’t you reinforce it?
– No, it’s not worth it.
– Are you going to rebuild?
– No. We’re not coming back.

The reporter had added something to that remark about the relative values of work: – I don’t suppose anybody who wants one will be without a job for the next couple of weeks.
Well, yeah. Certainly seems like some entrepreneurs are ready for biz anyway. Advertisements scotchtaped to the wall of the Marina school: Special rate for Marina Residents, $28, Sands Motor Inn, Credit Plan available.
Truck and man for hire. $30/hr.
Photographer for hire.
Emergency Housing Available. Free rent til October 31, 1989, $1500.00 per month thereafter.
Some opinions are added: Housing for the Homeless! Not Yuppie Scum!
I talk to the Red Cross man.
– How many are homeless?
– Oh, a thousand.
– How many need shelter tonight?
– Well, most of them do have shelter. They’re staying with friends, relatives, and then most of them have credit cards, so it’s not really so bad.
– How many do you have staying here?
– That’s a little difficult to say because a lot of them haven’t lost their homes, but they don’t have PG&E or water, so they come here for meals and showers.
– Is there anybody who’s going to really need shelter?
– There are probably about sixty to a hundred people who fit in that category.
So to keep from feeling like a total vulture, I submitted my name as one who would shelter the less fortunate. Good God, what am I going to do if somebody actually calls? Some friendless Yuppie pill, too cheap to get a motel? Some crotchety 89 year old miser whose family told her they were full? Some permanently homeless guy who managed to convince the Red Cross that he’d lost his Beemer, his pinstripe wardrobe, his portfolio, his condo, his entire family, and that was why he was dressed in rags and smelled like a goat? What will my roommates say when one or more of these unfortunates shows up at the door? Guess I ought to warn them.
Still, I just don’t want to be a gawker. That sign in the window of my old place at Chestcold and Cough had the last word in Marinated Marinaville: Gawkers Go Home!
I believe I will, seeing as I’ve actually got a home.

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– Yeah, I got a good story. I had a 2-bedroom apartment. Now it’s a studio.
– Was I scared? I still need to change my shorts.
People keep comparing this to a war zone, and I can see why. Looks like Beirut after bombing. Helicopters thumping overhead, , big ol’ cranes on tractor treads with shovels like dragon’s jaws, even got fangs, taking bites out of somebody’s dream houses A water cannon lays down a misty barrage. Doesn’t keep all the dust down though. Blows toward Marina Boulevard – strong southwest winds today – gets in spectators’ eyes. They rub ‘em and squint and rub ‘em again and pick at ‘em and stare some more. Kids sit on the curb. They love it, can’t be torn away. – Christine, Michael, come on, follow me.
Reminds me of when they tore down the old Cape Cod houses around the corner in 1960 and the peewees watched enthralled. We even helped them out a little, after the sweating cursing men shut off their pocketa-pocketa Diesels and went home. Kids love destruction.
Shame these have to be such beautiful houses though. Stucco, Spanish tile, iron grillwork. Rather a hodgepodge really: there’s Victorian and New England saltbox and Gallic Revival. The kind of hodgepodge of the haut bourgeoisie that appalls aesthetic foreigners, but they are nice houses if you don’t mind hodgepodge. They’ve got lots of nice stuff in them, that’s for sure. Most have been emptied, those that didn’t collapse completely. Gollleee, there be some pickins’ in that rubble. I wonder if anybody tagged along after the dump truck.
The evacuation of artifacts continues. Lots of U-Hauls and friends’ pickups (everybody has a friend with a pickup, don’t they?). Yupmobiles loading too: behold the broker’s BMW crammed and piled with worldlies, got a cumbersome load like the flatbed Fode of Tommy Joad.
Buddha remains on his throne though. At Marina and Scott, across from the yacht basin, gilded Buddha remains in the front window, bouquet of plastic roses in his folded hands, 6-foot gold pagodas on either side. Limited Entry. Emergencies Only. The House of Buddha is closed, sorry.
Nature is such a clever demolisher. Guerilla groups on a budget could learn from her. Don’t blow the whole fuckin’ thing down, just give it a good thump. Crack it just enough so they gotta finish knocking it down themselves.
O Palace of Fine Arts, you Cecil B. DeMille monstrosity, how is it you survived? Not that I object: thou art a wondrous if not beautiful edifice, and I am pleased to see the mighty columns intact. Not a gargoyle displaced, not a figurine ajar. Great stone urns loom at the roof’s edge. A tremulous teeter would be enough to send them plummeting to a rocky crash on the concrete below.
Some nice people – well, everybody’s nice people today –are being married in the rotunda. Well, not quite the rotunda: the yellow plastic Caution Caution Caution tape so prevalent in this shaken land keeps them ex portas. They’ll be explaining that yellow band years from now when the wedding photos are displayed. A guy asks me who got married, and when I say I don’t know, he asks,
– Who are you working for?
– Oh, um, nobody, just freelancing.
– I mean, I saw you had this notebook, so I was wondering…
– Well, I dunno, somebody might buy it. Just thought I’d take some notes.
– Reason I ask is because I saw your notebook, and I’m a reporter too. Pacific News Service. Do you live around here?
– No, I live in the Haight. We got through okay. You?
– I live here. Well, I used to live here.
– Oh…your house?
– It’s gone. Or it will be. Got the red tag.
– Get your stuff out?
– No. I lost some irreplaceables. My stories, my book of contacts. But I got out.
– Will they let you back in?
– I don’t want to go back in. It’s this close to coming down. The Big Bad Wolf could blow it down. Little Bo Peep could blow it down. So who are you working for? Oh, you’re not a reporter. What are you?
– I’m an English teacher. I’m having my students write essays on this, so I thought I’d better too.
– Where do you teach?
– College of San Mateo.
– My son went there. But he avoided English classes. Writing wasn’t his gift.
– How’d he get through?
– He didn’t. Now he builds houses. But a housebuilder is probably more important now than you or me.
– True.

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