“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges—
Finally Wendt’s name was announced and Michel Brezon, who had been sitting in the front row of chairs, bolted up onto the stage and strode to the podium. Wendt smiled. So he’s gonna do it after all.
“What’s going on, Wendt? Are you pulling a fast one?” Irma regarded him with a mix of dismay and delight.
“Hey everyone, I’m Michel Brezon, and Carl Wendt, who couldn’t be here tonight, asked me to stand in for him.”
Chickenshit. Wendt shook his head. David Bloom had moved from the wings and was about to intervene just as Brezon launched into his oft recited oldie and only goodie, Popeye and Bluto Beat the Shit Out of John Ashbery.
A few people got up to leave. One of them was Grace Niklia, the police inspector. Wendt caught her at the door. “Hey, leaving so soon?”
She looked surprised to see him. “But he just said. . . .”
Wendt thought he could detect a little disappointment. “Naw, that’s just part of an act we do. Hang around, this is where I go down and interrupt him. Kinda like an old vaudeville routine.”
Grace nodded and stood off to one side of the exit ready to scram if it got any more tedious. Or serious.
Wendt strode down to the stage and announced himself by saying, “Oh, wow, Michel, thanks so much for covering for me! I thought I wasn’t going to make it.” He thumped up the steps to a tittering and general murmur, waving a hand like an arriving celebrity which, if truth be told, to this crowd, he actually was, sort of.
Brezon was shocked, mute in wide-eyed disbelief. Finally he gasped, “What are you doing, I thought. . . ?” and trailed off unsure now of what he thought. By then Wendt was at the podium with his arm around Brezon’s shoulder.
“Dada lives!” he said into the microphone and then smiled at the other poet. “Brass ass Michel Brezon, the Tristan Tzara of North Beach! Yeah! You are wild, my man!”
Brezon perceived a knife sinking to its haft in his back. He sputtered, “But I didn’t even. . . .”
“And I want to thank you for stepping in for me. I’ll always be grateful.”
The hand on Brezon’s shoulder now pushed him gently aside as Wendt took his place in front of the lectern, “Michel Brezon, everyone! Editor of the surrealist magazine, Ton Trou. What’s that mean, by the way? It’s French, right?”
Grace Niklia at this point would have been convinced that it was indeed a vaudeville act. Brezon seemed dazed, a deer in the headlights. He answered absently, “It means Heavy Truth.”
Wendt reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and extracted a folded sheaf. He looked out at the audience, a bunch of people who thought they knew all about poetry or were with someone who thought they did.
“I’ve written a poem so long that it’s almost a novel.” There was an audible gasp from the assembled. “But I’ll only read the prologue. It’s a poem about one of my favorite subjects, entitled Procreation.”
Afterwards, Wendt accompanied a gaggle of celebrants that included Courtney and David, looking very pleased with themselves, to Candide, a hipster dive on McAllister. When he entered the bar there was a collective cheer of “Wendt!” Not that he didn’t deserve it. But it was still a little unsettling.
Starry eyes, he hated starry eyes. They surrounded him. Another shot appeared before him, and another hand thumped him on the back, another pretty face insinuated with her limp surrendering hand in his, eyes fluttering in servile sincerity. It made him uncomfortable. He had engaged a whole new generation and it was scary, one of those what-have-I-done moments.
“Wendt, you’re a genius,” was the general tone of the congratulatory handshakes that accompanied the demands of “Let me buy you a drink.”
“Thanks, and rest assured your assessment is entirely correct, and will be deemed prescient by future generations,” was the autograph he signed in the convivial air. It had been a while since he’d had such an enthusiastic reception. Suddenly his words had edge. People seemed to want to hang from them. But they were the same words he’d spoken so many times before. Or reasonable facsimiles. And the realization on some faces that now they most likely would have to rethink their assessment of him, much to their dismay, was sweet irony.
Andy Porter and his girlfriend strode up, he with a big face splitting grin and she with a demur smile. She didn’t really approve of Wendt because he didn’t fit the bourgeois template of what was acceptable as success.
Wendt shook his hand. “Hey, thanks, glad you could come.”
“That was amazing, Carl, new work I haven’t heard before?”
“Just a little something I’ve been tinkering with. By the way, we’re still on for the apartment sitting, right?”
Andy shot a quick glance at his girlfriend. “Uh, yeah, yeah, I need to talk to you about that.” He indicated the commotion. “Let’s do it sometime next week. Bebop Café ok?”
Someone else queued up to offer congratulations and Andy and his girl drifted away. If he glanced over in the direction of the shuffleboard table in the corner he could see a gaggle of people from the Iron Hat Works looking a little too authentic for this crowd. Cleve had already come by and clapped a big bear arm around his shoulder and breathed his beery breath into his face. “Sorry I missed your reading, buddy, but I showed up for the drinking, and that’s all that counts!” And every time he swung his gaze a little further to his left, there was Brezon giving him the finger. Ah, well, he’d get over it.
Yet there were also those who would never approve of him or what he did. Kara Pace was one of them. He’d never noticed her pincer-like hands and her stubby little turtle feet before. She frowned, disturbed as much by the ruckus as by Wendt. “You are such a male chauvinist pig. Your poem is an insult to women. We have rights to our bodies!” With a body like yours, Wendt thought, you’re welcome to it, but let her continue her tirade. “How dare you come down on the side of the anti-woman creationist! You and your Neanderthal thinking are passé, Wendt!”
He wondered what she had against Neanderthals. “Whoa, whoa, what are you talking about? My poem is hardly anti-woman, let alone creationist.”
“Your title says it all. Pro creation!”
“Ah, one of those. Heard the title and immediately went brain dead. It’s about creation, Kara, the creative act, whether it’s slapping paint on canvas, writing a sonnet, making music or fucking. All of which you know very little about, apparently, particularly the latter. Get a clue, Kara, I’m pro creation!”
“This silly bitch bothering you?” Mac back from the ladies room had caught the end of the conversation. Kara glared at her and then huffed away through the throng milling around Wendt’s stool at the bar. Mac had assumed proprietary rights to him and jealously guarded access.
Over the heads of the closely packed and increasingly drunker entourage of well wishers, he caught a glimpse of the lady cop with a drink in her hand, alone, standing by the door ready to skedaddle at a moment’s notice. She had accepted his invitation, much to his surprise. Now he had to figure a way to ditch Mac or at least distract her and get a few words with the policewoman.
Mac gasped as if she were choking on her drink. “Omagod, it’s Rod!”
“No, you ass, my husband!” She distanced herself quickly, saying, “I’ll call you later.”
Once again the fates have intervened, Wendt mused. He caught the detective’s eye and smiled.
They left the hubbub of the bar and headed a few blocks over to Masonic, and Crepe De Sol, a 24 hour pancake joint.
“That was an amazing performance. It was almost worth sitting through all the mind mush that came before it.”
“The operative word being ‘almost’, right?”
“No, I’m serious. You were very very good.”
“Hey, don’t let the cape fool you. I’m only human.”
There was the empty booth by the wide window onto the night street. As the detective scooted across the bench on her side of the table, he couldn’t help but notice.
“Anybody ever tell you you’ve got a nice smile?”
“I don’t use it much at work so I guess I’ve got some saved up.” She showed him more teeth and the bow of her mouth emphasized the symmetry of her face. She wore a touch more make-up than when he had first seen her. Her long hair, still parted in the middle was held back by a large glittery silver clip and exposed the delicate shells of her elfin ears.
Wendt was pleasantly dazzled. And the effects of the celebratory alcohol lapped at the edges of his immortality. “Lucky me.”
The waitress came to stand by his elbow. “Hi Carl, start you off with coffee?” She stared at Grace and waited for the answer to her unasked question.
Grace put the laminated menu down. “Do you have herb tea? And maybe the crab crepe.” She questioned Wendt with a tilt of her head, “You’re not having anything?”
“I’m surprised you stuck around. Not everyone goes in for poetry.”
“Oh, I read poetry. On occasion.” The smile was hesitant. “Though I can’t say I have a lot of time, what with my job and all.”
Wendt had not forgotten. “Geez, I totally forgot, you’re a cop!” then looking around and over his shoulder, “Oops, did I say that too loud?”
“No big deal, I’m used to it.”
“Well I’ve never had crepes with police before. I’m impressed. You’re a woman, obviously, and you get to pack heat.” Wendt smiled as the waitress dropped off the napkin rolled utensils and slid the coffee cup in front of him saying to Grace, “I’ll be back with your tea.”
“Is that the proper term, packing heat?”
“I guess it is if you’re writing a detective novel. Mostly if you’re sworn, you’re armed.”
“Oh yes, dangerous. As much a danger to ourselves as to others.” She smiled like it was an inside joke. “Caution is advised. It’s not a TV show. Some cops are more dangerous than others. For me, that weapon strapped to my hip weighs a ton. Civilians have a fantasy about being armed. They have no idea of the responsibility that goes along with it.”
“Are civilians the only ones? I do read the newspaper.”
“Most cops are good people, but yeah, some let their fantasies, their prejudices cloud their judgment. Most of them are men who grew up playing Cowboys and Indians and haven’t let go of their juvenile self-righteousness. The pack mentality of little boys, bullies.”
“But not you.”
“The big secret about this job is to understand that it is just that, a job. And one day, if I’m lucky, I’m going to walk away from it with a minimum of damage to my psyche. And a nice pension. It’s not exactly a job that makes you feel particularly good about your fellow humans. There are bad people, and I know that’s a generalization, but people who are desperate enough or damaged enough to think that laws and civil codes don’t apply to them. Those are the people I come into contact with almost every day. I don’t often have the opportunity to talk with a writer or a poet. I have friends, but they’re mostly into family, sports or reality shows. After an eight or ten hour shift sitting at a desk, answering calls, and doing paper work, the last thing you want to do is sit around and read.”
“But you read poetry.”
“My sister wrote poetry so I’m not afraid of it. I was exposed.”
“Exposed, yeah, like radiation.” Wendt chuckled and sat back against the booth, tapping his upper lip with a finger, gaze fixed at the steaming coffee in the beige cup and the chipped formica edge of the table. Pieces of a puzzle he didn’t even know he was solving were arranging themselves into a pattern. “What’s your sister’s name?”
“Also known as Gigi?”
The waitress passed an empty cup to Grace and set a small green ceramic teapot next to it. “Your crepe will be here soon. Anything else?” Wendt shook his head as did Grace whose smile had yet to dim.
“Yes, Gigi, at times. So have I, but I never took to it like she did. It’s because of our initials. She’s Gloria Gabrielle and I’m Gloria Grace. I took to Grace because I’m such a klutz.” And as if it were necessary, “we’re twins.”
“Wow, double whammy! Is she a cop, too?”
A cloud crossed the inspector’s brow and shadowed her smile, now bravely tensing to stay that way. “No, no, she. . . .” Her eyes narrowed searching his face for indication she could trust him. “She’s. . .challenged. . .emotionally. . .she’s like a four year old. . .in a middle aged woman’s body. . . .”
“But she writes poetry. What kind of poetry does a four year old write?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I think I would. I’ve been a poet for. . .well, more years than I care to remember. . .I think I would understand. Give it a shot.”
The waitress hesitated as Wendt finished and then placed the plate in front of Grace. Wendt’s eyes went down to the crepe just as the aroma hit him right between the eyes or slightly lower. “You know, Krishna, I think I’ll have what she’s having.”
“So, you from here, California?”
“You know, only people who are not from California ask that question.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Yep, born and raised right here in the city in a house over on Ulloa, just off Sunset. I still live there.”
“So old blood California, gold rush émigrés. . . ?”
“Nothing so romantic. My great grandfather was from Greece. He opened a dry goods store over in Oakland in the late 1800’s. He then moved the business to San Francisco, like a week before the earthquake. . . .”
“Let me guess, he didn’t have insurance.”
“They lost everything and had to flee to the country which back then was mostly what became Golden Gate Park, and live in a tent.”
“Kind of ironic that the homeless to this day still use it for that purpose.”
“You’re funny.” She meant it, and he knew he was falling. “Anyway, they relocated up to the country, to Sonoma to live with some relatives. . . .”
“Where they invented the grape and wine was born!”
“You’re trying too hard,” but she was laughing. “They eventually moved back to the city and restarted the business from scratch. And great grandpa Niklia built a house out in the country close to where they had been homeless. My granddad took over the business when he came back from the first war. And lived in the same house, the house where my father was born.”
“And that’s the house you live in now?”
“No, my father sold the house when he married my mother. She didn’t like it. Thought it was a firetrap which it probably was and wanted something more modern. By then grandpa’s mercantile business had gone bankrupt. The Depression. My dad went to school on the GI Bill and studied to be an engineer. My sister and I were born there, on Ulloa.”
“Home birth? That’s pretty progressive.”
“It wasn’t on purpose.”
Next Time: As Wendt falls head over heels off the cliff of love with Grace Niklia, the police detective, he also learns who dropped the dime on his old friend, Dick Granahan. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY & WEEK to read the pdf file.