Sunday, February 14, 2016

Stakeout

It was a Sunday like any other Sunday, yet different.

I don't know what had cut into my early-morning dreams — perhaps the upstairs neighbor's fourth trip to the bathroom. More likely, it was two smacks against the pavement by tightly wound newsprint encapsulated by thin plastic. The Times and the Chronicle — they were like sausages tossed from a car to the entryway of my San Francisco apartment building but without the big, meaty mess.

As it was, the building’s not much to look at: three floors of wood and sea salt from the early 1960s, awaiting the next six-point-something so the owner could have it red-tagged, collect the insurance money and sell the hilltop lot to some tech tool.

But if you squinted long enough, through the fog and between the scaffolding of the million-dollar homes across the street, there was a view of the bay. You could even see Oakland’s Coliseum, not that you’d want to see what was going on inside.

The building’s got four units, including a home for me and my dame. She’s a lithesome blonde number, straight from one of those online catalogs. Yeah, she comes across all nicey-nice, but she's an ink-stained wretch like me.

But I didn't know her history when she walked into my office 22 years ago. She had legs like Lolo Jones and a voice like Bacall — measured, asking, but already knowing the answer.

"Are you, Ron?" she said.

I didn't look up from the computer terminal on what passed for a desk underneath piles of worn-out clich├ęs, candy wrappers, yellow sticky notes and old newspapers covered with words printed so long ago even they had forgotten why the electrons were wasted on them.

Let's just say the cleaning lady didn't give a damn; neither did I.

Dangling like the participle on my screen, I let my pen hang from my mouth as I typed.

"That's what they call me."

I slowly hit the period key, finishing my sentence but knowing I could return for an umpteenth rewrite. "Just one of many things they call me."

My eyes finally fixed on the vehicle for that voice. I grinned at the doll.

"Of course," I said, grinning, "you can call me anything you wish."

Long and short of it, about a year later, she ended up calling me "husband." I liked the job and the benefits.

Yeah, a rug-rat eventually came along — a kid named Benny, who the stork plopped on our doorstep 12 years ago. He's a good kid. I only hope he can keep his nose clean in this snot-filled world.

Call me his tissue.

That's why I was on stakeout this particular Sunday. I had some cleanup work to do.

Someone had been stealing our Sunday newspapers, our little luxury in this hardscrabble world of sound bites, “likes” and retweets. I was here to make sure that didn't happen again.

Here's the skinny: The dame and I like to read. We like to be informed. We don't like it when someone tries to get the news for free.

You see, there are two kinds of stupid — one where a man takes off his clothes and dances naked in Dolores Park; the other when he does the same thing on your doorstep. The former you can ignore — after all, it is Dolores Park — the other you're kind of forced to deal with.

All of which parks my butt on this fake-marble stairway at 4:17 in the blessed a.m., trying to keep the naked man off my stoop.

You see, I'm a journalist — not a blogger, not a "citizen journalist" — and I get paid to cover the news.