Charles (Chaz) enters his workshop Thursday morning early, 4:30 a.m. He can’t sleep and hopes whoever has been rummaging around in the lab for the last week will be there. He carries his son’s old aluminum bat and is determined to clank someone over the Golden Gate Bridge. Chaz played baseball his entire life, Little League, high school, college recreation, and now, an adult softball league. His partner, Mike Hughes, is beginning to think that Palmer is losing it.
The lab is a peeling Army gray antique Quonset hut in the Presidio on the east end of a grass landing strip, Crissy Field. The hut is 20’ x 30’ with a loading dock and roll up door in addition to the main door on a wooden platform stoop and stair. In 1776, the Spanish created a military post to guard Yerba Buena, now known as San Francisco. It was turned over to the Americans in 1856, during the Mexican American War, and guarded access to the bay from the Civil War through WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Cost prohibitive and antiquated, the Presidio was decommissioned in 1995. A national cemetery still resides on the grounds; it is one of two still in or close to the city, but no new internments are accepted in either. Since it was recognized as a national historic monument in 1962, it’s future would be left to tourists, volunteers, recreation, film studios, and living quarters for park keepers and a few private San Franciscans.
Chaz is brilliant, but not without cost. He graduated from high school at 12, and earned a B.S. in two years at Stanford. Not content with engineering, Chaz turned away from his father’s architecture firm to study and build movie sets in Los Angeles. He met Mike Hughes, and George Lucas at the University of Southern California. Still in his 30’s, he is ten years younger than Mike. Chaz married an extra from the second Star Wars film (both wore modified costumes from the film, a black and white Vader storm trooper tux, and a Princes Lea ball gown.) A year later, his wife Sarah gave birth to a son.
The hours and dynamics of the movie business, the acceleration of his life, a new wife and son, and his personality quirk, when he was 28, Chaz crashed his ’69 Lincoln into a taco shop after hours. Shaking in the 80 degree heat, he couldn’t say his name, and agreed to a vacation at Getaway’s H & M. If a screwdriver is out of place or a coffee mug handle is pointing in a different direction, Chaz notices. He can’t help it; he is a Felix Unger a-type with John Nash intelligence, and near delusions–he sees/feels the slightest change and must memorize and rationalize it. In the minutest detail, he can recall crumple patterns, color and texture, bar codes sequences, or what ever was last left in the trashcan the night before. Chaz takes Zoloft for obsessive compulsive, but it just dilutes intensity and softens frustration and anger.
Lately, a lot of small items in the lab are out of place, change position, or are on the floor. He is positive someone is moving his tools around, but who the hell would care? Nothing is missing. Someone has bumped the workbenches, turned over the drip coffeemaker, brushed against a giant cactus, a spiny phallus with bulbous flower on the end (a gift from his wife Sarah,) and once, something even left tracks. Strange muddy, sandy, gooey tracks, but not in the shape of a foot or boot trail up from the roll-up receiving door to the supply room.
Chaz first checks the storeroom, and although the lock is a simple, single key, it is never unlocked. “What the hell would they think if they opened it?” He thinks to himself.
After his routine sweats and confirmation that nothing is missing, he shows Mike; the response is always liquefaction tremblers. This part of the Presidio is built on an old swamp. The soil is landfill from quakes, fires, and fairs, the detritus of a city that rebuilds itself from ashes every 150 years or so. During the rainy winter in the Marina, the ground can become so saturated that any large vehicle, moving truck, garbage truck, or sweeper can tremble the walls of dwellings built in the 1920”s.
“I didn’t feel anything last night, and I live here.” Chaz says.
“Liquefaction,” Mike repeats. “You’re just not-sensitive to it. Who would come in here just to move stuff around, Chaz?” he asks and rolls his eyes as he scans the room. “I don’t see anything missing. My iPod is just where I left it next to the stereo, and the new LCD? It just doesn’t make sense Chaz.” Mike lives north across the gate, and he knows Chaz too well, over too many overnight, 64-hour weeks at deadline, on the antique army cots with drugstore box fans to cool the servers.
“What about the footprints?” Chaz is more agitated then usual.
“I don’t know. Were they really footprints? Did you take your meds?”
“Why the fuck do you always assume it’s me?” He exhales as if he is fanning a campfire. “I’m going for breakfast.” He shouts and huffs out the roll-up.
Mike shakes his head, “he’s getting worse? I need to talk to Sarah.” He walks over to the storeroom and rattles the handle, and bends down to examine the lock. No sign of tampering, he pulls keys out of his pocket, moves Chaz’s bat, opens the door and flips the light switch. The 4’ x 10’ closet is partially lined with shelves on one wall, and on the opposite stands a nut/bolt electrical/mechanical parts bin cabinet, a four-foot safe, a file cabinet, and rack of servers. Stacks of thin polypropylene sheets of various colors, chemicals in tin containers, terabyte replacement hard drives in plastic wraps, a couple unused processor replacements, reams of printer paper, graph paper and toner, a couple boxes of No2 pencils, boxes of 50 gallon black plastic garbage, and a few early models rest on the top shelf. The Thunderbirds Are Go, Zero-X simile with broken wings from a high school project, Martian habitats built on top of tumbledown Earth skyscrapers, and stage mockups for a friend’s musical, War of the Worlds. Fingerprints dislocate a dusty exterior on each, as if someone personally carried them with the greatest care.
In the back corner, a black canvas tarp covers an object the size of a large recliner. It’s warm in the closet, and Mike sees a small clear puddle at the front base of the tarp. He walks towards it and bends down. Dipping his fingers, and rubbing it between them (thick, slippery like viscous AstroGlide) he lifts it to his nose. “Damn, it’s sweating.”
Chaz returns with a couple of breakfast burritos from “Soledad’s” taco coach. Animators, producers, editors, techs, and support queue up every morning between eight and nine; the Letterman Digital Arts Center is on its regular weekday route. Chaz’s sits at his workbench and unwraps an egg, cheese, and nopales soft taco, and adds Sole’s home blend hot sauce.
Mike sniffs the air. “Did you get one for me?” He opens his arms and hands, palms up and thumbs out.
“Liquefaction,” Chaz says under his breath.
“Taco’s? It’s just your imagination.” He adds.
“Come-on, don’t be like that.” Mike answers.
“What? Did you take your goof balls?” Chaz barks, and turns his head down, inches from his food.
“OK.” It’s going to be a long day. “By the way, the plastic man is melting again.”
“Fuck it.” Chaz murmurs between bites.