On the taxi ride up to Cloyne Court co-op, on Ridge Rd. at La Loma, my pager went off, and it was Bekka. And she'd put in an odd combination of codes, both "911" (major shit is happening, call ASAP) and "411" (big news, call soon, important information available). When the cab driver dropped us off, I took in the scene at the co-op. It was definitely a blow-out. I could hear 77-style punk rock being played live, the singer trying to ape Joe Strummer's voice. There was lots of talk and laughter and activity, but it seemed to lack the same sort of uncoordinated efforts of a large crowd fueled on alcohol. We strode in like we owned the place and paid a guy wearing a King Vitamin crown and fur robe for our beer cups. I wasn't in too much of a hurry to start drinking, I wanted to find a resident with a private phone who I could bribe into letting me call San Diego.
Jane and I began walking up to people and politely asking if they were Cloyne residents. Jane found one, who took us both in with apprehension. I told the girl, "Look, my wife is in San Diego, she just paged me, and it's important. I'll give you a double sawbuck if you let me use your phone for five minutes to make a long distance call."
"Uh.... That's twenty dollars, right?" the girl asked.
"Yeah, exactly. Is that kosher? You can stay in the room, that's fine, just so long as your room is fairly quiet and you have a private phone line."
The girl shrugged and gestured for us to follow her. We went up a long flight of stairs, along a hallway which was both inclined and seemed to run at an angle from the rest of the building, down some steps, then around five corners. I was utterly disoriented. So was Jane, who asked the girl how many weeks she'd had to leave trails of bread crumbs to find her way out of the building. "Just two," the girl said, unlocking her door.
She pointed to a phone sitting on her desk. When Bekka heard me on the phone, she said, "I just got some news from Vinny about twenty minutes ago, and I'm going to give it to you straight up. First, Lawrence Pelton will live. It was touch and go for quite a while, but he seems to have rallied and is now stable, but still a mess." She paused to sigh. "Larry Bennett died this afternoon. Too much trauma. He went into a coma, then his heart stopped about a half hour later. Efforts to resuscitate didn't work." Another pause. "I'm sorry about Larry, babe."
I stared blankly down at the desk. My mind registered I was looking at a textbook for a Human Sexuality class. I responded, "Okay. Thanks for letting me know. Well, shit. We at least batted .500, I was afraid it was going to be a shutout. Do you know where Lawrence is? Can I call him?"
"He's at Cedars-Sinai, in ICU. Vinny did give me the phone number for his room, but said it'll probably be a couple days before he'll answer. He's still out of it. Fourteen hours of surgery, while they sew your intestines, spleen, and part of a lung back together can be a bit taxing. But he is stable, and doing well, considering. In the morning I'm calling FTD and sending the biggest fucking bouquet they sell, I'll forge your name onto the card."
"Thanks, babe, I'm going to wait until I can talk to Lawrence on the phone, and after that I'm going to visit." I chuckled. "I'm gonna yell at the bastard for scaring me like that, and I want to do it face to face. Any news about Haley?"
"Yes. They found the Audi in the parking lot of a Big Bear in Clairemont. And in what can't be an unconnected incident, there was a car-jacking at a liquor store four blocks away this afternoon. Suspect's description matches Ron Haley. He had a pistol, and was carrying one of those huge duffel bags like hockey players use. Also, the bag seemed to be very heavy, according to the victim."
"Twelve gauge shells can weigh a bit, when you get a bunch in one place," I observed. "What's the description of the newest car?"
Bekka replied, "A 1991 Ford Taurus SHO, blue, plate number 2MHN199." She chuckled. "Um, apparently Haley hasn't driven a stick in a while. The victim said he seemed to be having trouble getting in gear, he stalled leaving the parking lot of the liquor store, then popped the clutch and burned rubber. If he doesn't get any smoother, the cops will pick him up real quick. They just need to watch for a Taurus being driven by a spaz."
I puzzled a bit. "Wonder what the hell Haley is doing in Clairemont. He knows where the La Costa studio is, and the Oceanside location isn't exactly a secret."
"The pessimist in me says he knows both studios are being watched, and is lurking around out of the area until things seem to have normalized. We'll be putting the stakeout plan into place in the morning. So long as Haley doesn't actually observe us setting up the subterfuge, it'll look like a normal Sunday work day at the mansion, with Leonard and Bekka Schneider's cars front and center."
"Let's pray he bites."
"Where are you calling from?" Bekka asked.
"A co-op called Cloyne Court on the north side of campus. I'm in the room of a lovely young lady, uh...." I held the phone to one side and apologetically asked for the girl's name. "A girl named Kristen, who was willing to be bribed so I could use her phone. Would you like to talk to her?"
"Is she a Becky Page fan?"
I looked at the Becky Page poster on one wall, which had lipstick prints (in different shades) on some of the naughtier areas of the picture. "Yes, I believe she is. Hold on."
I didn't give away who was on the other end, simply telling Kristen my wife wanted to talk to her. She said "Hello?" into the phone, then got a shocked look. "No way. Really? No way.... Yeah.... Holy shit, you're right! That is him! Oh my God, this is so cool! Um, um, I don't know what to say, uh, what's new with you?"
I guessed Bekka was explaining about the Ron Haley-based stress in our lives, and how I'd just learned I'd lost a friend. Kristen (a girl with a severe pageboy haircut, shaved way up the back like
Becky Page, wearing vinyl pants and a tank top) mostly made monosyllabic sounds to indicate she was paying attention. She finally said, "Oh God, I'm so sorry, Becky-- Bekka. It's gotta be scary. God, you just went through all that trauma a year ago, too! See, this is why people think you're so strong. If it was me, I'd have collapsed into a ball, thrown myself in a hole, and pulled the hole in on top of myself....
"Yeah, I guess so, good point.... But still..... Um, look, can I confess something to you? It's because of you I admitted to myself, and everyone around me, that I'm bisexual. I took a lot of strength from you when I came out..... Honestly? About fifty-fifty, and all the time...." Kristen looked at Jane and smiled. "Yeah, she is..... Yeah.... Heh... Yeah, she is, isn't she?.... Bekka! Really? Oh my God, are you serious?.... Okay..... Okay, I will, right now."
Kristen set the phone down on the desk, walked over to where Jane was standing and leafing through an X-Men comic, and said, "Hi, you're Jane, right?"
"Indeed I am," Jane smiled.
"Bekka said I should give this to you." Kristen grabbed Jane by her neck and a shoulder and kissed her. Jane responded back instantly. The two deep-kissed for about thirty seconds.
When they broke apart, there was a serious sparkle in Kristen's eyes, along with a happy smile. She went back to the phone and said (sounding slightly breathy) "I did it..... Yes.... Yes, she really is! Oh my God, this is too wild.... " Kristen went a bit pink. "Okay. What the hell, I will."
Kristen said to Jane, "Bekka says you need a lover, a girl. Would you like to try with me? Bekka is right, you're hot, and you kiss awesome. Are you interested?"
Jane's response was to get a big horny smile, walk straight up to Kristen, wrap her arms around her, and get a death grep on her butt with both hands. Then they kissed some more. When they broke apart, Jane said in a casual voice, "Yeah, that sounds cool. Let's meet Monday evening for coffee or something, so we can sniff butts and make sure we don't think the other person is irritating as hell, okay? But yeah, I'd love to have some play time with another girl."
Picking the phone back up again, Kristen sa id, "Jane is game. God, this is too crazy...." She laughed, then said, "Jane, Bekka says to let go of my ass and go molest Lenny. He's probably feeling left out." (Jane yelled into the phone, "If Lenny moves six feet closer, I can molest them both, dammit!" Then she moved to my side and draped herself over me, one hand stroking my crotch like a cat.)
After talking to Bekka a bit more, Kristen called me over and handed me the phone. I began singing, "Match-maker, match-maker, make me a match...." into the receiver.
"I just felt like shifting the hell out of some paradigms," Bekka laughed. "Anyway, any other questions from this end?"
"How are the guards working out?"
"It's all right, much less stressful than when we had Nicky. Frankie and Joey are present and alert, but sort of blend in, it's weird. The two of them and Terry did have a discussion about handguns at dinner. The upshot was that Colt has a moral duty to make a twelve-round clip for the Defender, instead of only having the eight. Right now, Joey is lounging here on the sofa, Terry is watching 'Terminator' on video, and Frankie is down in the garage, just sorta keeping an eye on the street. Him and Joey will trade places in about a half hour. When I go to bed, my three guards will circulate on three hour shifts. One will be awake and in the living room while the other two sleep. They'll keep that up until I'm awake and showered in the morning."
"I'm glad they're taking this seriously," I commented. "Um, okay babe. Jane and Kristen are busy exchanging dental records again, and I want a beer, so I'm gonna sign off. I'll call you around eleven in the morning, okay?"
"That's fine. Buon divertimento stasera, bella."
"Dormi bene amore mio. Ciao."
I hung up and said to Jane and Kristen, "Excuse me, ladies? I need a fucking beer, so I need to prevail upon Kristen for guidance out of this warren. Quit sucking face for a few minutes and get to the goddamn kegs."
"Don't you want to join us?" tittered Jane.
I made a confused face and said, "But I only have one mouth...."
"We take turns, ya big mook."
With a bit of hand-wringing, I finally said, "Very briefly." I stepped to them. They both put an arm around my waist. Jane went first. Then me and Kristen, then Kristen and Jane, and around again.
After a few rounds, Jane said to Kristen, "Any more thoughts about what I suggested?"
Kristen chewed on her bottom lip and replied, "I think I still need to think about it a little more. I'm trying to resist the urge to have you call Beck-- Bekka back and get her feelings about it."
Jane got a bit of a surprised look, then said, "Actually.... That's a good idea. And an important one. Lenny, would you do us a favor and wait outside for just a minute?"
"Daaahh.... Okay." I went out, standing there with an unlit cigarette in my mouth.
After about three minutes, Kristen and Jane exited the room, both with rather excited smiles on their faces. I asked what was up, and they both demurred. Fine, be that way. Kristen led us back out of the Escher-designed residence wing and down to where the kegs were. I wanted a beer, now. All three of us got our cups filled and swigged. Standing a bit off from the kegs, people wandered past nearly constantly. Kristen waved several over so introductions could be made. Jane was "Jane, the girl who hopefully I'll be sleeping with all year." I was "Lenny Schneider. Like, THE Lenny Schneider, the guy who writes and produces all of Becky Page's movies. And speaking of, you'll never believe who I just talked to over the phone...."
The three of us had taken our hits of Smiley already, and were giving them away to anyone who would start a conversation with us. This was pretty easy, as my presence (and who I was) had been passed around like a joint. It was a new experience for me. I'd never really had people fanboy out on me, like they did on Bekka (excuse me, Becky). Now, complete strangers were coming up and doing a whole "Oh my God, holy shit, it really is you, you're the best thing to happen to the world since the invention of Astroglide." Uh, thanks. So, what is your favorite movie? I see. What about it appealed to you the most? Really? No one has ever said that before, interesting interpretation. Our newest projects? Well, we're working on a new concept right now, having short features --- really, episodes of TV shows --- released on a schedule. We have four story lines, we'll keep producing half hour episodes for as long as interest in the story lasts.
Some were disappointed Bekka wasn't with me. I made my stock nebulous excuse and introduced people instead to Jane, the girl who had been living with Becky and me for the last couple years. We saved her from a life as a teenage hooker in Hollywood, got her in school, saw her graduate as an honor student, and placed her in UC Berkeley. Yes, she's a freshman. And yes, she's a sex bomb, Jane doesn't dress like that to tease, she wants to provide pleasure. She feels if you see her walk past, and the sight of her gives you the pleasure of genuine arousal, then Jane has done her job. She's not going to help you relieve that arousal, that's for you to figure out on your own.... And you'll probably take care of the arousal on your own, too. And that's fine with Jane, she's happy you're having a sexual experience, even if it's with your right hand.
Cloyne Court seemed to be the repository for UC Berkeley's counterculture these days. It was a pretty mixed bag, too. Punks with hippies with rave brats with Trotskyists with Milton Friedman-worshiping anarchists. Also a mixed bag was the wide range of drugs. I was none too happy there was China White around, but its users swore it was just an occasional thing, a vacation. I wanted to remind them that the concept of "occasional" has a bad habit of changing its value of time. In October, "occasional" use of smack meant about once a month. By April, it could mean three times weekly.
Also available was Dutch Ecstasy (no Smiley), weed, LSD (blotter or liquid), DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, poppers, Whippets, Norco, cocaine, and one idiot huffing spray paint in a corner. He wasn't a resident, at least. I had a handful of loose hits of Smiley Ecstasy in my jacket pocket, Jane had the rest of the bag open in her purse, so she just had to stick her hand in and grab one to give it away, without displaying how many she had. We'd talk to people for a few minutes, then ask if they wanted to get high on Smiley Ecstasy. The invariable response was, "You have Smiley? You're giving away Smiley? No way...."
"Way," we'd respond. We'd drop our usual bullshit line about buying "even higher up the supply ladder than the wholesalers," rendering them, in bulk, rather affordable. Hey, Inana Productions is a massive success, and some of us worked damn hard to make that happen. We can afford to be profligate when we party.
With the mix of people also came a mix of political and social allegiances.... And these days, not all those allegiances were left-leaning. There was, as I mentioned, a decent sized collection of libertarians and anarchists, the extreme right of economics. One guy told me he was a registered Republican, but was very unhappy with the current state of the GOP. He wanted to "work from within" to return the party to the glory days of the Eisenhower/Nixon White House. Okay, then. I reminded him those good old days had Whites Only - Coloreds Only bathrooms, the House Un-American Activities Committee, and smothering social repression. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness. "Oh, I only want to resurrect the economic styles of the party," he replied. Oh. You are aware that there are plenty of GOP members around today that also want to dismantle Social Security, just like back in 1955? These days the call it "economic self-determination." Back then, Social Security was a borderline Communist experiment put together by that Democratic feeb, FDR.
"Look, dammit, there's a lot to admire about the Eisenhower era."
Nodding, I said, "You're right, Eisenhower was probably one of the best Republican presidents we ever had. He was the one who created the phrase 'military-industrial complex,' and used the phrase as a derogatory term. But Eisenhower was not the GOP.. He was just one guy. Really, really study your history, then decide if that's the sort of world you'd want to live in."
Another dude had drank the Kool-Aid of thimble-wit Berkeley progressive politics, and was involved with something called the Coalition for a Car-Free Berkeley. Basically, anything with an internal combustion engine would be banned from huge swaths of the city, the streets would be populated with bicycles and pedestrians, the air would be totally clean, all personal conflict would end, the Cubs would win the World Series.... On and on. I pointed out that if this Ecotopia-esque fever dream came to fruition, Berkeley would have an economic crisis normally seen in those West African countries where they end up issuing trillion dollar bills.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because every business in town that sells any kind of product or goods would go belly-up, since they can't restock their shelves. You said a ban on 'all fossil fuel-fired engines.' Last time I checked, the semi trucks that supply Safeway and Andronico's don't run on solar power. No deliveries means no business, and no businesses."
"Oh. Well.... Commercial vehicles would be an exception, and they'd have to stay on particular streets, like University or MLK."
I stifled a giggle. "All right. So the streets would be a peaceful coexistence of bicycles, pedestrians, and fourteen wheel tractor-trailers delivering loads to Safeway, or local restaurants. I can see some flaws in that logic."
Bicycle Boy sighed and said, "We'd have the major arteries open to commercial vehicles on certain days of the week, during preset hours. People would know to stay out of the streets during those times."
"Which would mean that during those hours, the major streets would be jam-fucking-packed with trucks, all at the same time, all trying to keep their deadlines. Not only would this force drayage companies to drastically change around preset routes, it may also mean that, for instance, Safeway may have to run a special truck to supply the store on Shattuck, because there's no way to keep within the parameters set by the city and stay on a route. That costs money, and that cost will be passed on to the customers in Berkeley. Not to mention that during those hours, all the noise and exhaust from all those trucks would be concentrated. Berkeley would sound and smell like a monster truck rally. Yeah, there's some good quality of life right there.
"Oh, and what about AC Transit? They aren't going to massively update their fleet from diesel to natural gas just because the city of Berkeley said they should. What about ambulances? What about courier services that handle paperwork for law firms and finance companies? What about pizza delivery---"
"Hey, pizza could be delivered by bicycle just fine!"
Now I laughed openly. "No, not just fine. Delivered cold, late, and overpriced."
"Why would the price of pizza go up?" scowled Bicycle Boy.
"The pizza places would have to find cyclists who are at the top of their game to make deliveries all damn day. Those cyclists would demand a hell of a lot more recompense than your average pizza guy piloting a Honda Civic would. You'd need more of them, too. And deliveries would still take three or four times longer than the goofball in the Civic could get it done." I waited a few beats and said, "So, shall I continue listing different commercial enterprises that would be catastrophically impaired by this idiocy? Like, what about taxis? How are the handicapped supposed to get around, they can't handle riding a bike or walking that---"
Now Bicycle Boy was getting fed up, so he launched into rhetoric and propaganda gibberish. "Why should an entire city be held captive by the tyranny of automobiles, wasting the earth's---"
"Oh, shut the fuck up," I stated clearly, also feeling fed up. "Yeah, you live a life of pain because of cars. Have you lived in the same place all your life? No, you haven't, you live in a co-op at UC Berkeley. Call this a wild fucking hunch, but I'll bet when you moved in here, you moved your shit with a car or truck, not strapped to a bicycle. What's your story? You get nailed for a 502 and you're not allowed to drive for another three years? You didn't get the Acura you wanted as a high school graduation present? Was you father's village attacked by Buicks? Or is it just that you're a fucking college student, and like almost every other college student, owning a car would be an expensive hassle, especially in a crowded town like Berkeley?
"Here's a news flash, Skeezix: utopia doesn't exist. And it never will, so stop trying to build a little simulacrum of one in a town you haven't lived in for three years. Yeah, riding a bicycle in traffic can be dangerous. Shit, buddy, I'm from fucking Southern California, and I rode a bicycle everywhere until I was seventeen. I know about the threat cyclists are under. And by the way, cyclists in the Bay Area are spoiled rotten compared to down south. Don't act like you're an oppressed minority because you pedal everywhere, it only makes you sound like a whiner. You're white, you're American, you have a roof over your head, and you have the resources to attend a school in the University of California system. You don't got shit to complain about, so don't manufacture indignities and go looking to feel all marginalized and shit. Tell you what. If you ride a bicycle and you've got real balls, you need to change your life in a big way. Get a job as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco. Those boys and girls know how to play hard. Everybody else running on pedal power are kids playing with their toys in the street, nothing more. Ride like a messenger, or go home."
I finally stopped talking, and the large room filled with applause, cheers, and whistles. I'd gained an audience of fifteen or twenty people while I was chastising Bicycle Boy. For his part, Bicycle Boy got a childish pout on his face and stomped off A guy near me with green hair and a Hawaiian shirt said, "Damn, buddy! You always unleash on people like that?"
I shrugged. "Only when I'm having my buttons pushed. He wanted to insist an inherently stupid idea was perfectly reasonable. I had to correct him. You know that guy?"
"Yeah, he lives here. I think he's going to be someone who always has a pet cause to flog. Next year it'll be CopWatch. The year after, he'll be trying to free Mumia."
"Jesus. You know, I really like Berkeley, I live north of San Diego. But holy Christ, do people like to jump up on the soapbox around here! I know that Berkeley turned into the fun, funky place it is because of the Free Speech Movement, but sometimes I wish Mario Savio had stayed at home and gone to CCNY."
Green-hair looked a bit confused. He said, "I know who Mario Savio is, but.... what is CCNY?"
With an insincere grin, I told him. "Mario Savio was raised in New York City. CCNY is an all-Jewish college there. Circumcised Citizens of New York."
He looked amazed. "Are you serious?"
"No, not at all. CCNY is the Community College of New York. I was stealing an old gag from Lenny Bruce. Hey, wanna hit of Smiley Ecstasy? It's free...."