The 148th version of the Columbus Day Parade in San Francisco started out from Fisherman’s Wharf under a muddle of grey clouds that mimicked slate smeared by an eraser. The forecast called for a gradual clearing by the time the geriatric marchers wheezed past Joe DiMaggio Playground into North Beach. The one true god who sported shades of white and beige on white proved to be on the right side of the fence again. The parade was the oldest civic event in the city, filling Columbus Ave. with an assortment of debris since 1868. The staid Italian families of North Beach held on to the reins of the procession with a grip that knew how to nurture an historic grudge. Marching straight was as narrow as it had ever been. No fruity loops, no glittery diamonds, no jokers, no queens, no spades. How else was the sky ever going to clear up without firm guidance? From their sunny point of view, the bay was as smooth and glassy as the blue on Lt Guv Gav Newsom’s touched-up eyes. Every pro pol in the the city had better show up to pay homage to the latest faked version of history, every has-been, wannabe, and ever will be, with glad hands and skin showing, or else. Even rank amateurs who stunk up the joint routinely showed up at the parade. Not even an ex-mayor of the city like Lt Guv Gav was exempt. Slick jockeys carrying silk whips pushed for inside positioning. Many possessed a sharp agenda to embrace. None of them were like mine, though. I did not care where in the crowd I did not fit. I wasn’t running anymore. I wasn’t hiding. What I was carrying looked like a non-descript box. Why else would an anonymous spy risk exposure at a dumb parade?
It was still dark when I started out that morning as one of only two passengers on an N Judah streetcar leaving Ocean Beach. I was wearing trendy mirrored shades shaped like a vintage German torpedo and a floppy jungle hat that disguised the flaky crust around my eyes. But I was soon joined by a brawny mass of street wise proletarians and strapping hangers-on. My career as a spy was approaching an apex. The Ferry Building was my nearly last stop before the end of the line. Unless that was an apogee. I stayed vigilant on the lookout for suspicious characters. No back stabber was going to sneak up on me. I was keenly aware that political intrigue did not pause for flashing yellow lights in streetcar tunnels. I gave up my seat and stood stoutly beside an iron worker, a dyslexic electrician, a paid up member in good standing of Plasterers and Shophands Local #66. A front desk clerk at the Hyatt Regency applied lipstick. A checkered cab dispatcher smeared her pancake and rouge. A surly coffee house waiter, too. Unless that pancake was blush. I did not have to ask to presume they stood with me as one for freedom to smoke weed and ingest edibles. More fellow travelers squeezed on at Duboce. There was a brouhaha at Noe. A corner of the box I was holding jabbed my chest at Castro. A gaunt Chilean baker of savory Chinese buns was muttering about no good crumbs and bums. He’d be a lot better off eating a bite size edible muffin to become chill. History was not marching, it was charging. Nothing was going to stop this runaway streetcar. Not even if that chest pain emanated from a bruised rib. I was going to transfer to the J Church on Market St. and change hats. I’d fool them all. I had exact change. Lt Guv Gav would never see me coming until it was too late.
At or about that same historical moment, Lt Guv Gav Newsom was seated on the ferry crossing the Golden Gate to the city from Sausalito. He was feverishly texting like a whiny adolescent with latent issues derived from blotchy skin. This and that was up for grabs in the political arena and he had a crammed schedule of head to head encounters to get ahead. Who ever said the path to win-win was all glory? After brunch, lunch. Next, a photo-op for unaffiliated party hacks. Soon, snacks and scones at a meet and greet. The schedule of an opportunistic plodder on the run was never full enough. He gargled and flossed, checked for tarnish. His hair was perfect. No problemo there, that’s for fucking damn shit sure. He re-scanned the same speech I had tossed off twice, for which I charged double, like duh. It wasn’t so much he enjoyed the exhilarating give and take of punishment and retribution that fueled political discourse, but if a hammer needed to be cocked against the engorged head of an enemy, he was a man to rise, not shrivel, and go limp, upon impact. Public service was no sordid matter of power or control to him but deep and widely felt principle handed down from his dad, an appointed judge. Whole white milk builds enamel. Straight teeth gleam. Dimples twinkle. The spotlight shines brightest on what may not be the truth and nothing but, but he don’t ask, and he sure don’t tell.
But, then a rogue wave near Alcatraz broke over the deck and caused the engine to sputter and stall. An ominous cloud gathered mixed mass. The newspaper in his lap ran with magenta and cyan. Intermittent drips sent his cell phone into a tizzy. The crease in his tight pants became all shook up. A steamy odor offended. His stack of cue cards drooped. A light went on and on.
I would only learn later that the buoyant humpback whale who appeared to be light taupe, when not more accurately representing dark ecru on the eternal color wheel, was monitoring developments from a position above a bubbly trench near the Farrallon Islands at 37.6989, -123.0033. Feeling the unity in the salt of all mammalian solutions, he was checking out new turf that would soon be returning to an acestral home at the bottom of San Francisco Bay. Then I heard what might have been the voice of Mavis Staples pleading, “He’p me.” She just wants to be free. I thought, me too. Then I heard the same voice offer, “I’ll take you there.” It was not the voice of Mavis Staples, though, resounding in that rarefied air. It was the voice of the lovely Thee Mrs, wife of HHUMH Thee Tawny Owl, who could duplicate every soulful sound in the storied history of rhythm and blues since Clyde MacPhatter. And I knew with certainty I was under the protection of mighty high flying wings.
At the corner of Market and Van Ness, I stood self-importantly with the masses. The trolley clanged. I held my box with both hands. Next stop, historic inevitability. I said emphatically, “Excuse me.”
“Yo, wrong way, dude.”
“Hey, watch it.”
“Sorry, no stopping now.”
I wasn’t really sorry. No fucking way. Momentum was mine right in front of me. There was no place in all-out war for wishy-washy any longer. No more horny rams butting lambs, braying, “Baa.” That’s just so sad and reactionary. Embrace or be rejected. Inclusion included occlusion in my bloody red textbook of revolution. I jumped for the clouds feet first from the back door and made my splash in the street like a cannonball in a gross public pool. Nimbly, I dodged a bus, a motorbike, and a minivan. What were they doing on a week-end schedule obstructing history? I missed the J Church that was heedlessly fleeing the scene but I vowed to catch the next one. I had plenty of time to eat a healthy muffin that was also delicious. My strategic plan did not change again until the next streetcar that came along was an L Taraval. Never no good reason to not get going while the going is good. It was a good thing, too, because events were accelerating. What it is what it is.
When Lt Guv Gav finally arrived, wet and drippy, later to him, sooner to me, I was just barely able to be there to observe. But there was no fraternal meet and greet for me. He eyed me with alarm, and turned his head while feigning a sickly cough. I waited to show my cards. I did not need to bluff. He stepped into a waiting limousine where he changed pants behind a suspicious red curtain. I followed closely from behind. He wasn’t going to fool me with a change of pants. I knew the political games played behind closed curtains. The robots and techno-yuppie dweebs were still still sucking hard on powerful juice. Carrying an important box slowed me down, but importance is what makes a great cause worth so many casualties and so much grief. What else?
I stumbled on a crack in the Emarcadero and bumped against an ornamental urn on Clay. I dodged a bullet on Drumm, a barker on Broadway, an entitled bicyclist going the wrong way on Battery. The hills were hard on heart and lungs. But I was not yelping for help. All vital organs were swollen with pride in a shared accomplishment. I held the winning box over my head triumphantly. I was just about finished for good. The box was beautifully tied with an elegant, crooked bow. I pictured the confetti blowing in the next victory parade. I heard green tin horns with white fifes. Owls hooted bass with the upbeat. Whales blew blue opalescent bubbles to Oakland in San Francisco Bay. Stripes were shed for diagonals. Cable cars were skipping tracks and running wild and free in the streets. I held on for the ride.
Later, after Lt Guv Gav had caved in at the first fearful glimpse of the decorative noose tied with such an elegance on the box, because knots may turn what’s inside out, and stick it to The Man sporting the bad juju stamped on his political DNA, he tried to pretend. He blamed, he blathered. He felt sincerely as if he was still one chill cat, no lamb. He scratched his unmentionable rash that itched when pinched.
“Win-win,” he bleated.
But did I gloat? Fuck yeah, I gloated. I wasn’t shooting my marbles with any modicum of cool self-restraint. No responsible adult here. I’m pretty sure I unmistakably heard Howlin’ Wolf growl and repeat, “Ooh…aah…ooh…hooh.” That’s politics for ya. Low consciousness, poor impulse control, sprinkle with gasoline, and fire away.
Sure, it was unnecessary to say it. But I said it anyway.