Buck Naked And The Bare Bottom Boys

I wrote this many years after the murder of the lead singer of the above mentioned band. Sometime in the early hours of the morning he was shot in Panhandle Park. This is not an accurate story as Buck was walking his dog in the park but the speculative fiction comes under the mindset of the lead characters.

Richard Kaderli

Incident In Panhandle Park

The fog choked the cypress and eucalyptus into letting their perfumes blend with mud and dogshit. It kept the temperature just above fifty and meant no windchill factor there in the shotgun gap to the Pacific that always bent to the ocean breeze. “Panhandle” seemed like yet another satirical jibe at Pappy Raingauge Greenwater’s struggle for peace and survival. Was no money to be made panhandling here. Never had been with all the people just walking their dogs; mostly Yuppies running or jogging.

“Wish my damn hands would hold still while I try to roll a cigarette,” thought Pappy. “Demons, let go of my fingers!”

Since Pappy had his tobacco out on the park bench it was only a matter of minutes before a fellow misbegotten came toadying up to him , schlepping a bedroll and black garbage bag with recyclables. He didn’t say anything to Pappy, he just had a hangdog look and motioned like a cerebral palsy victim for Pappy to scoot over and let him roll, seeing how Pappy wasn’t getting the job done. With alacrity born of addiction the bearded scraggly-haired gray man rolled two cigarettes. As he finished these his request for a third for later was rebuffed. The matches glowed brightly as the daylight barely illuminated the fog between the trees. The two bums puffed without words, the hum of traffic on Fell and Oak filled the scene with the occasional car horn punctuation, and before long they heard a voice cursing and growling.

“Fucking bastards. Dogshit, all this crap!”

A shopping-cart-pushing wastrel appeared at the edge of the fog and a loud crash followed as a steel park garbage barrel was dumped to the ground. He scattered the contents of wrappers and plastic on the ground until he spotted a few beer cans which he picked up by fingers poking through tattered knit gloves. “How am I supposed to get to the recyclables when people cover ‘em with these bags of dogshit? I’d like to kill them goddamn Yuppie dog lovers!”

“Isis take it easy with that dog crap. You’re getting it all over the foot path and the grass ‘cause its coming out of the bags. You are really making a lot of fucking litter for everybody. Bad karma bro.” The ragged recycler had slung on his bed roll and continued off, schlepping his clattering bag after reprimanding the intruding homeless man.

“Fuck you. Hey fuck you. I’m gonna’ slice up some mutt right in front of a jogger pretty soon ‘cause I have crap all over my hands and I’m gonna’ spread that shit on their dead dog. You’re wrong about karma, man. Those suits and joggers are gonna get what comes around.”

With this outburst Pappy had risen from the bench and stepped a few feet toward the offender. He pulled a pistol out from under his shawl that covered the front of his distinctly drab army coat.

“Now let’s hear about you stabbing a dog. I hear that you hurt an animal in my park and I will use this next time. Isis, you are shit to begin with. The Buddha tells me that people gotta’ go or the animals will suffer. I am their redeemer made person. You just get down that trail with your cart.” And with this threat he let out a grizzly roar.

“Pappy, I didn’t hurt no pooch. I ain’t even got a knife, just this poker. I don’t care what you fucking say. This is the People’s Park. I saw Janis sing here, man. I got more right than you to go through this garbage can if I want. You better not show that gun to me again or I will have my ol’ lady tell the pigs you’re totin’ that.”

Pappy in fact didn’t want to shoot because he only had a few bullets. He’d gotten the gun from Maurice who then on the run, had to hitch north out Park Presidio Blvd. to dodge the SFPD. Maurice told him it would just be a couple weeks before he’d come back through on his way heading south. He’d never said it’d still have to have bullets. It had seemed like Providence which Pappy Raingauge Greenwater ‘s waking dreams had told him finally would come. For he was “The One”; he had a mighty destiny. He would use the piece to scare away these Napa refugees but he would never waste a bullet on one–especially that asshole, Isis.

“You been ‘Fifty-One Fiftied’ your last time if I catch you or hear of you cutting a dog or any of friends of St. Francis of Assisi. Naper, the jail, no place will save you, ‘cause I can go there too and kill you. Your old lady, yeah you probably straighten her out, heh, heh, stick her,” Pappy jested and thought of the Old English 800 pint she had swiped from him last month and of the two fresh cans waiting for him across Fell Street.

Isis turned away shaking his head and heaved his steel shopping cart toward Baker St. He made a point of not looking back at Pappy as though he was an already forgotten nuisance rather than a hair-trigger death threat.

The night was old and the moon was hidden and the leaves came tumblin’ down as Chuck Fenster, (his stage name) rolled out of the van. “Chuck Fenster and his Plumbers’ Hellers” read the logo on the rear panel of the van. A pipe wrench across a plunger, like crossed swords, was the design inside the logo. Had he known Max was going to need the van to drive back to Moira’s (his girlfriend) flat, he’d have dropped by home first for some blow and head. All the other girlfriends staying at the house were their groupies. Chuck wore a green backpack over his leather flight jacket, a purple bandanna over his hair and Doc Martin’s on his feet. Nobody would recognize him, even if there was anybody up at 5:45 AM, which there wasn’t. They’d think he was any other x-gener rather than his rock god self (or godhead toward which he ascended).

Aw well, he had a joint of top-end sens in his pocket and he’d toked a little rock after the Hotel Utah gig. He’d kicked ass at that show but it sure as hell didn’t pay the bills that were piling up for the new Graphic Equalizer and studio time. The band’s expenses were shared so he was always down to his last Ben Franklin every week, hence his goal to promote C.F.P.H. by postering so early in the morning. Helps if you don’t crash the night before too. Well, Max was going to have to go over the route again tonight with the other hundred flyers. And once they had the money from the Covered Wagon and DNA Lounge gigs, the band wouldn’t be hanging their own posters anymore.

“This is why this time is the right time!” Chuck grinned as he swung north to cover the poles in front of The Vis and crisscrossed the street to tape the poles all the way down to Fell St. Not having to dodge cars made it easy, and the poles’ over-stuffed Philly Blunt condition looked so defenseless at dawn. They were the prisoners waiting to be shot.

“The Nightbreak shit is getting covered! Look at those graphics—suck man. These flyers musta gone up last night. Whadda buncha assholes and weirdos.” Nightbreak featured Goth Rock and other cliché groups whom long ago Chuck had decided took themselves too seriously.

The traffic was moving on Fell but he was still able to get four corners at Broderick, at Oak too. He walked Fell’s south side all the way to Stanyan and then came down Oak’s north side to Masonic. The monotony of stapling telephone poles had used up the final vestiges of a buzz from his earlier crack high. In the center of the park he leaned against a cypress and refilled his Arrow T-50 staple gun with half inch leg staples. Taking the joint from his jacket pocket, he lit it, inhaling the smoke in long draws. Catching the buzz, he definitely did not feel like heading uphill to Haight Street, so he wandered east through the middle of the Panhandle watching the gray light begin to play on the trees, and sang out the words to his biggest hit the night before.
“I want you to love me. Oh yeah. I want you to kiss me. Oh yeah. Whoa baby, I’m so glad you’re mine.”

He ended this rendition with a wet smack like he always did while holding the plunger that covered his genitals and leaning over the stage like he was offering it to be pulled off. Only he was glad it didn’t come off as it was all he was dressed in besides his plumbers hat. The Plumbers’ Hellers all got to wear unzipped overalls but it was Chuck that drew the crowds with his naked antics and raunchy lyrics. You couldn’t say he was derivative or took himself overly serious. But they were gathering more fans and garnering more media exposure. He’d be a big star soon and then drop the nudist image.

He noticed some street people arguing and dragging their bags like they always did. He sat down on a green wooden park bench and checked his backpack with an air of diffidence to ward off any requests for spare change. Noticing some pigeons that were early risers going for the contents of a spilled garbage can, he lifted his staple gun like he was hunting and yelled “Bang!” The white plumed bird rose, then landed a bit farther to his left. Laughing he stood on the park bench and shot the staple gun at the flock of birds as fast as he could while imagining squeezing off a clip of an Uzi. They reacted individually by running out of range after a staple bounced off their folded wing. The remaining few were ravenous and unaware of Chuck’s threat. So enwrapped in his fantasy was he that the old homeless man walk up to him unnoticed.

“That’s enough!” shouted the grizzled bearded old coot.

The weed sharpened Chuck’s sense of smell so that he was doubly offended by the wino’s piss-sour smell as well as his affront. Immediately he noticed that the guy had his hand in his army coat. That didn’t make sense unless he was packing and Chuck’s pot-addled reasoning told him the hour was too early for violent urban dangers more characteristic of after-dark.

“Who do you think you are? You know who I am? Get the fuck away from me unless you’re gonna pull something?” Chuck shouted menacingly raising a boot to aim at Pappy’s head, an easy target from up on the bench.

“I am Shiva Incarnate and Protector of the Park’s People. You hurt my birds,” and with that Pappy brought out the pistol firing twice at near point blank range. The first shot went straight into Chuck’s groin which hit him like a ballbusting kick and he counter balanced by falling forward. Pappy’s second shot went into his left eye exiting out the back of his skull taking off the bandanna as well. He clanked to the asphalt path with his staple gun. He didn’t even groan but just lay quietly still.

Pappy picked up the green poster bag, checking it for money. The twenties in the front pocket nearly flew up like frightened pigeons from his shaking hands as he looked and rezipped it. Yanking out the forty lavender fliers, he spilled them over Chuck’s body, and then stuffed in the Glock 9 mm among the packs of staples and masking tape. He fled from the scene of Chuck covered in papers announcing his name, The Covered Wagon, and Dollar Beer Night.

It was sixteen ounce Old English beer that figured at the center of Pappy’s mental focus. He thought, “After I pick up those cans from under the stairs across Fell I’ll keep on heading toward Market. Crazy Mike will split a twenty for me to stay in his room at the Civic Center Hotel over the weekend. I gotta move fast or the pigs will catch me. Out of the Haight they won’t notice me. It’s a week before the end of the month so Crazy Mike will need the cash.

Buddha, is that you? Are you the devil?”

Pappy’s heart nearly stopped until he recognized that the eyes belonged to a brown cat sitting on top of a stack of recycling bins next to his stairs. This was another sign, a shriving from Saint Francis for shooting that punk. The beer was his sacred reward and he spilled a tiny libation, making an offering when he recovered it.

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  1. Time Slipping

    Paris cannot count the ounces of Miller Lite that he has consumed. He looks at the sixteen-ounce can in the paper bag on the counter next to the phone and thinks it was not as much as a gallon. But fear or anxiety gnaws at him as he watches the phone not ring in the dim light of the Haight Ashbury Switchboard office. It was probably even more. He filters out the night noise of Haight Street. He doesn’t need to try hard because the beer keeps him in a blanket or cushion of low affect. Cars blast music, kids break bottles with loud pops, and car alarms whine but he isn’t phased. He sits in the office chair looking over the counter at the mailbox room wondering if he shouldn’t get up and check his inbox while he can still remember. Last week somebody put Bruce’s nylon bicycle pants in there. Those new shorts that Bruce wasn’t going to get to wear because he collapsed coming up the stairs of the Haight Ashbury Switchboard and died. Could have been that he waited too long to get into cycling and carried too many extra pounds for his heart to take. Paris didn’t have that problem. He rode his bike hours every day. That would probably be the way he went out: long blonde hair blowing in his face while a truck mowed him down on the city streets.

    But he doesn’t leave the desk. He drinks some more from the can and hears the front door downstairs open on it’s battered hinges. Everything in that hallway has been beaten about. These old Victorian buildings could tell tales of a century of human hammering if they could speak. Ghosts could bear witness to the use of human heads as bludgeons on the ramparts of the Victorian molding on these stairs.

    Walk-ins are part of the service he provides by keeping the Haight Ashbury Switchboard open at 1338 Haight St. Anyone can come upstairs and collect his messages or receive his mail. This is a full ten years before the Internet takes off yet it is like today’s public library offering computer time for people to collect their posts off of Hotmail. Many services are offered but few community members want them. The Haight Ashbury Switchboard is dying of apathy.

    A single bare bulb at the top of the landing lights the hall. On this floor you can go farther back to the living quarters in this shotgun flat, if you have a key, or you can turn left and enter in the office. Paris will see you first before you see him because he will see your head rise among the rungs of the banister. Likely he will know you by your walk up the wooden uncarpeted steps. But this person he doesn’t know. This person is slow and sounds like he is walking with a cane. Paris gets spooked because he has kept that beer buzz turned toward drunk and Bruce died on those stairs only a few weeks ago. The light isn’t very good but there is some additional office light afforded by the street lamps shining over the paper letters of the HASB in the bay windows. Finally a white middle aged man on crutches appears on the landing. He comes around the corner in the hall and leans against the door jam resting on his crutches. Paris is coy but has a standard response in his protocol.

    “You’re here. This is The Switchboard. What do you need cause I’m thinking of locking up?”

    “Hey, I just climbed up those stairs on these. Gimme a minute to rest,” says the sandy blonde man in a trench coat. It is then that Paris notices why he is on crutches—he’s missing his right leg.

    The guy isn’t Long John Silver but he doesn’t seem far above the panhandling street people whom Paris serves at this office every week. He has short hair by Haight St. standards but it isn’t a style, more like a couple months growth past his due date for a haircut. He isn’t obese though he has a lot of extra weight inside that trenchcoat. He seems kind of amused at his surroundings as he looks them over.

    “Your name Paris?”
    “We met before?”
    “I’m Richard. No we haven’t”
    “So why are you here?”
    “Thought I’d like to see your office and make a call.”
    “You wanna sit down on the couch while I bring the phone over there? We have an extra long cord.”
    “Nah, it’s easier if I stand. Once I sit down I can’t get back up. You worked here a long time?”
    “Since 74’. Seems longer these past ten years.”
    “You’re a volunteer. Nobody pays you. Why do you stay with it?”
    “I like what we offer. I like babysitting the ‘Paris of the West’. I save lives here.. Sometimes I piss-off Dianne Feinstein though she doesn’t even know my name. The Haight Chamber of Commerce sees us as ruining their neighborhood by helping out the street people. That’s good enough for me.”
    Richard gives Paris a knowing glint from his eyes.
    “That’s a can of beer. Are you suppose to have alcohol or drugs up here?”
    “That’s a burrito. You look like you ought to be watchin’ yourself if you know what I mean. As long as I’m not smoking a joint in here I’m not breaking our rules.”
    “You burnin’ a lot of pot? Paris what’s the matter man, ain’t you got some together trip you’re supposed to be into?”
    “Hey look. I like in SF because it is a cultural oasis. I don’t have to worry that I’m a pot head here. What’s up with you? You could pass for a street person living in Golden Gate Park.”
    “Actually I am at a shelter. That’s what I need the phone for. I got to call up MAP and see if I can get a ride back to Howard. They make some special arrangements with me cause I’m an amputee. I gotta get back and keep my stump clean. I pissed my pants cause I couldn’t make it to a bathroom fast enough on these.”

    “Uh, Richard, it is the thing I’m into here. I turn people on to referrals. Seems like you oughta have a prosthetic leg. I’m not saying there’s anything in this Survival Manual I’m handing you or anything open right now but I know there’s something through the Haight Free Clinic and Shriner’s for getting you a leg if you haven’t got medical.”

    “I don’t want to get into it right now but I have a fake leg and I don’t wear it. I just need to get myself through some emotional things I’m dealing with about my relationship with my wife and then I’m going to go back home or get a new life,”
    he says as he leans over the counter and picks up the phone using the counter to support his weight, “ Yeah hey Reggie. Richard. What! OK ‘Gimper’, listen I’m ready to get picked up. I’ll be standing out in front of Uganda Liquors. 25 minutes? Sure.”

    “If you come back at 2 p.m. on Thursday I can still make some calls for you and see about a leg.”
    “Thanks Paris. Damn you try too hard. Didn’t you hear me say I am not interested– I don’t want what they got right now. I’m better off where I live.”
    “What at Harrison House, or in jail? I’d think you’d want to have your hands free at least to drink. You can’t stand with one hand on a crutch and one on a drink.”

    “Paris, I didn’t mean where I live. Not now in San Francisco. I meant when I live”.

    He looks around the Switchboard with a sort of teary smile.
    “Damien still lives in the back?”
    “You a friend of Damien (which would mean he was gay)”?
    “No, I just know him. I know you better. Hey I’d better get down to Uganda’s—it takes some time on these.”

    And as he heads toward the stairs to go down following Richard and locking up, Paris considers how he would kill himself rather than face the rest of his life without a leg and on crutches. He takes the last dregs of his can of beer and thinks that it is a moot question because his liver will go before he’d face sort of life as a cripple.

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