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Home | Archives & Cast | Shop | Contact Kel | The Story So Far

01/13/2017

Sinking

Let’s begin the new year with a story about my cousin Wreck, née Rick, who’d love this:

Millennium Tower, fifty-eight stories of swanky Frisco hubris on Mission Street, near Natoma. A Xanadu of Grand Residences, the tower’s a glassy gray dream of Nebuchadnezzar raised expressly and exclusively for the warehousing of autocrats, moguls, magnates, personages, potentates, glitterati and fat cats. The only way you and I’d ever get into the place would be to run the floor polisher in the lobby. As of this writing the erection's website posits that Millennium Tower’s 'more than a place to live, this is the way to live. Rare and precious, shimmering on the skyline like crystal, Millennium Tower is one of Worth Magazine’s Top Ten Residential Buildings in the World.'
Did I mention it’s near Natoma Street?

Anyway, three decades before Millennium Tower was a gleam in Frisco’s eye, in that dazzling month on the cusp of summer when The City is scoured clean by wind and sun, cousin Wreck bombed across the Oakland Bay Bridge in style. He’d come into possession of an ever-so-slightly beat-to-shite 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz ragtop painted blizzard white with blistering red tuck and roll upholstery.
Where did he get it? Wreck would only say, “a guy.”
 
Imagine Wreck, working near a smelter for most of his adult life. It had given him an economy of movement and a booming, raspy conversational style. “Indoor voice, Wreck,” GG, his travelling companion, a lofty, slim, eye-catching yet gimlet-eyed girl out of North Philly said, more than once.

And Wreck’s aspect? Pure jack-o'-lantern. Sorry, Cousin.

Wreck and GG - pronounced Gigi - the first woman I ever met featuring skin art, had zigzagged that finny boat west from coal country. Wreck made sure she got to see everything on her punch list, like Vegas for instance… but then only by way of a prolonged swing north through the Goblin Valley in Utah.
She loved him, that was manifest, but the metal fatigue of 24/7 Wreck was starting to discolor the seams of the outing, so let’s just say that by the time they rolled into Frisco GG wasn’t in the mood to take any asinine crap out of Wreck’s boneheaded cousin, aka me.

Scheduled to be in San Francisco for just five days, right out of the box she was hot to see Chinatown. She and Wreck shared an enthusiastic and encyclopedic knowledge of 1970s Hong Kong chopsocky films. They knew it all, the principals, their fighting styles, who’d beat who in any matchup. They were invested. However, on day one Wreck was up for Cuz - he called me Cuz - to show off something from the real San Francisco.
So, taking him at his word I had Wreck aim the Caddie south of Market, at Natoma Street, just off Mission.
On the way there we swung by their hotel “to pick something up” from a little drawer in a coffee table, one that was packed to the top with rolled joints, and I mean a buttload of rolled joints laid in there side by side as neat as baby pigs, one layer atop the last. Wreck glommed a fistful of hemp fatties and a pistol from the room safe even as I tried to explain that San Francisco might not necessarily actually be pistol country. But he insisted and slipped the gun into his jean jacket pocket.
On the way out I noted Wreck’s clarinet on the couch and asked him to play something. He tootled a bit of Frenesi then, plummy and tuneful, in notes that seemed to twine among themselves like a time-lapse film of growing ivy. Wreck fondled that licorice stick like Artie Shaw, no joke, but said he didn’t do it much anymore. At the time I thought he just didn’t have the itch.

Now, the thing about San Francisco’s South of Market Area and Natoma Street in particular is that its specific geological makeup, being the shore of a marshland that only became viable after Frisco shoveled some nearby sand dunes on top, makes it an infamous wonderland of liquefaction and subsidence.
Which doesn’t mean high-rise homes of consequence can’t be built there. In fact at Millennium Tower they’ve thought of everything to smooth the stony road of affluence and renown, even pointedly not labeling the 13th floor as such, because the well heeled are evidently given to qualms about such things.

More interestingly, another pertinent item the builders left out are the steel end-bearing piles that would had to have been sunk 300 feet through the underlying muck to bedrock, choosing instead to balance the tower on a concrete base and ninety-foot concrete friction piles, a decision that in the opinions of many has led to the tower sinking sixteen inches into the ground during its first year as a going concern instead of the total of eight as forecasted over the entire life of the thing. And yes, it’s tilting too, leaning northwest as of this writing, two inches at its base, six inches at its top.
Even now you can hear the great rumbling gears of generational lawsuits beginning to move in their courses.

Thirty years earlier it was all laughs and munchies on that brisk sunny day when cousin Wreck, GG and I hit SOMA in the Caddie and headed breezily toward Market on Fourth Street, which was thought-provoking really because Fourth trends one-way in precisely the opposite direction we were travelling.
Trying to maintain a façade of manly cool as I slid down off the back seat onto the floor, I gritted something along the lines of, “Wreck one way, one way Wreck, ONE WAY!”
Much more practiced at projecting nonchalance, Wreck, in the face of the oncoming cars, let go of the lightly crazed steering wheel, thrust his hands above his head and, hollered, gleefully, “I know not where to go for I am a stranger in your land!”
I really don’t recollect how he got us off Fourth Street, that part’s a blank, but I do strongly recall GG giggling, gazing over at Wreck with bared teeth and bright, blank eyes.

Soon enough, Wreck did get us to Natoma Street, where among similar things I showed him this:

Which after all that lead-up it isn’t much to look at, is it. Just someone’s crummy old house with half its lower floor underground.
Thing is, Wreck dug it the most. Those sinking buildings, which are legion, tickled him. He spent a half hour down there, circling blocks, pointing out the toppling, the slumping, the descending and the doomed. He could relate, I think.

Four days later Wreck and GG left The City, taking the Golden Gate Bridge out of town in sunset light, coring their way home through the southland and clean through Florida, only turning the Caddie north when they finally hit the sea.
 
Wreck, always full of surprises, was dead by winter.
The testicular cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes a handful of months before his expedition to Cali had infiltrated his lungs.
As leaves began to fall he’d gone to Aunt Dot’s to help with gardening. Then Wreck laid down to take a nap in his old room and never woke up.

Lately I can’t help but think of Rick, aka Wreck. Especially with the Millennium Tower glowering out there somewhere, drunkenly.
It was cruel of Fate to have reared that nonsensical thing long after the one guy in the world who’d most understand its cautionary tale of insolence and overreach had already upped and died.
Someday I intend to have strong words with Fate on this and a host of other subjects. 

Kel

Pepperpot Piper is written & illustrated by Joseph Kelly
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