Cafe Life (June 25, 1997)

Two middleaged men are sitting at a sidwalk table at Enrico’s in North Beach. Their mood seems foul as if they have been stewing in their impotence for so long the broth has begun to slop over onto the sidewalk. A couple years earlier, journalist Warren Hinckle spotted me having a heave-ho at Tosca, and felt the need to show me what appeared to be an FBI file on Gardner that was released due to the Freedom of Information Act and stated clearly that Gardner was an operative using Ramparts to watch-dog and collect information on the left. Never trusting Gardner in the first place, and feeling familial duty, I passed the information along to my uncle Bruce, telling him to consider the source, but to look into it. “Loose lips sink ships.” Gardner had buddied up to him, despite the fact that a newspaper and my uncle have no friends, and became a contributor to the AVA. But not having seen him for years, or knowing his animosity towards me for my courier status, I say, “Hello.”

Gardner says he has to talk to me, in private. He grabs me by the arm, and if I weren't six-four and 185 lbs, I might have considered this a threat. He walks me outside still holding my arm, and, menacing me with his breath, he tells me the documents Hinckle showed me are false. I tell him I don't care. He wants my address anyway, to send me documents proving he's not a plant, which is kind of like a parking meter thief paying off his fine in nickels. He tells me, “It's dangerous to be passing along that kind of information.” I reply, “My family comes first. Bruce is a big boy, he can come to his own conclusions.” Now he wants to “look into my eyes” as he tells me, “What happened, in this Pynchonian world we're living in, is I've been confused with someone else named Fred Gardner.” I can't look that stupid. He could at least have the courtesy to say he was framed. Tired of the conversation, I tell him he's confused me with the journalists in the family. I write fiction. Then this remnant of a bygone era says with a squeeze of my arm, “You're a good kid. But this is bigger than you. I'd hate to see you get hurt.” He reiterates his last sentiment, “I'd hate to see you get hurt.”

I'm one of the few males in my family never to have been incarcerated. No prison or jail time. No picking potatoes, no solitary confinement, no drunk tank. No penance for parking tickets. Never an overnight at Frank Lloyd Wright's Blue Roof Inn in Marin County. Never public enemy No. 1 in Arizona. That's not to say I haven't broken the law or that there aren't things I wouldn't spend time behind bars defending. I have little respect for authority. My time just hasn't come. There's no big movement I believe in other than late night phone calls to ex-girlfriends and 0-2 curveballs. The vague notion of “art.” No use bombing BofAs. We are divided if not conquered. Alienated and masturbating on the internet. If I was terminally ill, Kissinger should watch his back. But other than voting, and a few compulsory demonstrations, Redwood Summer, an Anti-Gulf War March where I felt the need to be counted even amidst candle burning feebs singing “Give Peace a Chance,” I don't define myself by any political sub-heading. That may have been important during the Spanish Civil War, but now those divisions simply mean more backbiting amongst the left and few results. I believe in the Bill of Rights. But who cares what I believe in, how I cut my hair, what I eat for dinner? The unfortunate reality is that “my family” has encountered violence on a personal and institutional level; punches thrown, cars swerving, property damaged, large groups ready to silence, right to vote taken away. Friends blown up in cars. I have been harassed before. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you. Just because you aren't a target doesn't mean you won't get shot. There are mini-Oswalds out there acting on what they believe is their own volition with itchy triggers and strange lists of enemies.

So, “The Lone Gunman” Gardner releases my arm and returns to play intrigue with his friend Señor Fatuo at their table at Enrico's with the same intensity as two children with a Risk board. Cloak and Dagger. Dumb and Dumber. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don't like to be threatened. But I walk back to my room up in the old hotel, “nothing to fear but the Hotel Tevere itself,” and process words. I'll continue to hide in plain sight with my blinds pulled wide open. They'll continue to drink and deceive themselves. I'd prefer to believe that these encounters mean nothing. Two obsolete men living anachronistic lives, growing old and useless, having missed their chance to connect the dots. For them it might mean the world. For me it's just another night in North Beach. 

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