Shift change, Jasmine hugs me on her way out of the bar. She holds out the $20 I sat on the bar for her under 2 Washingtons. “You know, I don’t need this,” she says.
“Uh, for the kid’s college fund or the neighborhood association.” I reply, and the new keep, Julius or Jules, fills my whisky glass.
She shakes her head, “are you sure you’re OK?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine. Nothing an overnight tour with Mr. Barley Corn won’t fix.” I manage a weak smile.
“Do you want to get some dinner first? I can cancel my meeting with the North Beach Vendors Auxiliary.” The concern in her eyes catches me off guard, and awkward with my mouth open.
“No, no, I just want to be alone with my thoughts for a while. But thanks for asking.”
“Ok, if you’re sure. Call me if you need to and be careful.” She hugs and kisses me on the cheek. I smell hops on her coat. It’s comforting.
“Bye.” She pulls away and I manage a more natural smile. She turns and leaves.
The hollows dull a bit as the alcohol blurs its edges. Jules returns with a PBR. “A table ordered the wrong thing.” He offers it to me, and I shake my head yes. Tomorrow will be lost to recovery and maybe the next day too. I know I can’t blur my way free of this maladjustment, but Mr. Barley Corn will shrink it in small increments. If only I could erase it like a bad poem on my smart phone. I should’ve never given up my job in insurance, actuary tables. How much easier it would have been as an obscure professional in an upper-middle-class suburb worried only about cutting the lawn ahead of the rain this weekend. No maladjustments or ethical conundrums, political expediency and friendships with retainers-I would be following death’s pattern, and no one would know what the hell I was talking about. I would still be juggling genetic natural distribution probability, risk assessment, ROI, future value, life tables, and political key-marks for 9 to 5, five days a week, two weeks off in the summer, and two off in the winter; with a yearly cost-of-living increase, cookouts, and sports games on the weekends; and an equally standard deviation from the normal curve, two kids and a dog or cat, “I don’t know what my dad does, and it’s sure dull.”
“Hey, silent dick, look what I got,” Comma Nadu, sits down next to me and opens a filthy canvas grocery bag; it’s an Oracle World cast off.
I look down into the bag and that’s when I get a snoot full, “shit Nads, you stink man.” I turn my head away and miss the bag entirely.
“I was bin divin’ in SOMA” (SF, south of market neighborhood is a multi-use, post-bohemian warehouse district.) I found boxes of empty Audrino boards.”
Jules comes over to take his drink order, and within three feet, he grabs his mouth and nose and turns away.
“Nadu, you’re going to have to get a bath man.” He shouts through the hand clasped over his face. “You can’t stay here smelling like that,” Jules is looking at me with eyes wide open, and motioning his head to the door.
“I’ve got something else you might be interested in Seven,” he pulls down my hand from my nose and shoves an old 35 millimeter film canister under it. My eyes begin to water and can’t help but sniff the canister,
“Orange crush/purple mountain hybrid,” he says and puts the canister in his shirt pocket.
Jules is waving at me to get Comma Nadu out of the bar. Patrons are moving away from him. One group of six enters, pass next to Comma, and immediately turn around and leave. “Come on man, one drag and you’ve got to go.” I place a napkin over my whisky and head for the door. I don’t wait for Nads; I grab his arm and pull him off the stool.
“Ok, Ok, I know you want a taste, but maaan.” He says as he stumbles behind me out of Pomp’s into Kerouac Alley. We walk up the alley, and cross it to the end of the City Fire Bookstore’s wall mural. He takes out a pipe. It’s not marijuana or even glass crack pipe, but a Meerschaum tobacco pipe. His hands are smudged black, yellow, and red. The dingy white pipe is carved into an image of Sherlock Holmes with a missing nose.
“No fucking way Nads.” I pull out a small wooden MJ pipe and knock it against the bookstore bricks to clear any ashes. He hands me the film canister and I break off a small bud.
“No, no dude,” Comma interrupts me. “Go ahead and pack it. I’ve had a great day, and I owe you.”
Comma Nadu (Coma and Nads are his nicknames) is the most consumed bit-head that I’ve ever known. His given name was Alex, but he changed it to match his code philosophy. Sure, anybody can code, even a pigeon, but the space between the lines defines the style, the terminators and continues, the line breaks are what make a style. His business card is the shape of a Space Invaders icon with “Have Code Will Travel” along the middle and contact information below.
Nadu is a 1st generation East Indian, American. His parents are from Haryana. They migrated in 70’s to California on academic scholarships in information technology and mathematics. They settled in Mountain View. His grandparents were rice farmers in Andhra Pradesh and fled family persecution for the industrial north.
My eyelids are thicker, and my mood is not much better. I told Nadu not to come back here until he bathed. I doubt he will return, because his attention is easily diverted. I sip at the cold glass lip of the PBR. Jules returns with a shot glass full of whisky
“Wrong thing, again. Stupid tourists. ” He sits the shot on the bar.
“Thanks,” I smell and taste it, “how can Jameson be the wrong thing?”
“All I knows is it ain’t Jack Daniels,” he snickers. Imitating a particular tourist, he shrugs, “Uhhhh,” and we both laugh.