Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chapter 2-The Quiet Man

            “Sure Joey, of course, how is your father?”
            “He’s doing okay, plays a lot of bocci ball down at Orange Avenue Park every afternoon with his friends from the old days. Mom says it’s just an excuse to drink wine and tell dirty stories.”  Ya, know, Jimmy, I don’t see how you Micks can eat this over cooked meat and spuds and call it a meal.”   “Never stopped you from eating it, Joey.”
            While Joey ate his stew and bitched about the 49ers, the Giants and the cost of bribing the City Building Department workers, O’Brian remembered how he met Joey and his family.
            At that time, O’Brian had been out of the Navy for a few years and was working as an Investigator for a big law firm. It paid well, with lots of overtime during the week and on weekends.  O’Brian wasn’t a big spender, didn’t even own a car and was able to put away a lot of money. It was the first time in his life he wasn’t poor.
            After work, O’Brian liked to go to the gym and lift weights, run on the treadmill and hit the heavy bag. He had to do it to decompress, otherwise, he would have beaten the crap out of the neurotic, obsessive compulsive lawyers he worked with. Then he would take the long walk up and over North Beach to his one bedroom in Yuppieville, otherwise known as the Marina district.
            On this night, he made a quick stop at the CIty Lights Bookstore and picked up one of Haruki Murakami’s novels. Then, he crossed Broadway and walked up Stockton. As he was walking up Stockton, he heard a muffled sound that sounded strange. He took a step, stopped and turned back and walked down the alley he had just passed. He stopped and listened. He heard the muffled sound again.
            At the far end of the alley, where the streetlight barely illuminated the black wet pavement, O’Brian saw some shadows move up and down. He heard the muffled sound again. He slowly walked down the alley, stopping to pick up a piece of a 2 x 4 he saw on the ground. He walked on the balls of his feet, trying not to make noise. He felt something slid under his feet, it made a soft raspy sound. O’Brian stopped and listened.
            He walked a few more steps and saw a mound of bodies surrounding a head of white hair. O’Brian didn’t hesitate. Swinging the 2 x 4 like a baseball bat, he hit the closest mugger on the side of the head. Screaming in pain, the man rolled onto his side. O’Brian kicked him in his face, breaking the nose, maybe the jaw. The man groaned and      stopped moving.
            The other two muggers looked up and saw O’Brian. Rage and fear on their faces. “You little fuck, you fucking asshole, your ass is mine,” the bigger of the two said. He rose and stepped towards O’Brian. O’Brian let him close.  Then when the man was close enough, O’Brian kicked the man in the kneecap, shattering the patella. As the big man leaned forward to grab his knee, whimpering now, O’Brian gave him a full face shot with the 2 x 4. The third man ran down the alley past O’Brien towards the street. O’Brien let him go.
            O’Brian grabbed the victim by the elbow and helped him stand. O’Brian thought the old man was hurt. “Are you all right, sir” O’Brian asked.  “I am fine, thank you, yes said the man.”  I’m fine. I can walk home. O’Brien didn’t think so. Then the man said,  “I am Giancarlo Butazi.”  O’Brien recognized the name and wondered where the hell were the man’s bodyguards. 
            “Let’s take a cab, Mr. Butazi” said O’Brian. He flagged one down and after Mr. Butazi gave the address, they sat in silence as the cab rolled up the hill through the misty rain.
            The cab stopped in front of an immaculate Victorian on a side street off of Green, 2/3 thirds up Nob Hill. O’Brian helped Mr. Butazi out of the cab. He was about to say good night and head on home. He was tired and his hands ached. The front door of the house slammed open and a tall stocky man came rushing out. Right behind him were two men who could have played offensive tackle on the 49ers.
            “Pop, Pop, where the hell you been the first one yelled. We’ve been worried sick. Ma said you were supposed to be home an hour ago.” Why didn’t you take Bobby and Nick with you?”  Mr. Butazi said-”I’m fine and I wanted to be by myself.”
            Finally, noticing O’Brian, the son of Butazzi turned and said, “who’s this guy?”
            “This man saved my life tonight.”
            “What!! This little guy?”
            “Yes, the little man with the big heart. Now let’s go inside, I am cold.” It was said softly, but, firmly. It was a command, not a request. The father, his son and the two lineman started up the stone steps of the stoop. Again, O’Brian was about to walk away and go home when Giancarlo Butazi turned and said, “come inside, we should talk.” O’Brian said nothing, there was nothing to say anyway and followed the family into the house.

Chapter 1-The Quiet Man

            O’Brian felt his senses dulling, filling his insides with the fullness of a Thanksgiving dinner. It made him wary. The thought of being a contented man left him disquieted. It was unfamiliar territory.  He nursed his drink, a small smile on his thin lips as he remembered old World War II movies where the soldiers sat in a foxhole at night. One would say, “sure is quiet.” The other soldier would say without fail, “yeah, too quiet.” Then all hell would break loose. O’Brian was hoping that this was not one of those moments. He was hoping that it was the Jamesons.
            Looking at O’Brian, a stranger would see a lean, almost thin man in his late 40’s, conservatively dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit and wearing glasses. The stranger would assume that O’Brian was a lawyer or maybe a banker. He would assume that O’Brian was enjoying a mid-afternoon drink. He would also assume that O’Brian was a timid and shy man.
            The stranger would make these assumptions. He would be wrong. Very wrong. O’Brian, all 5-9 and 165 pounds of him was a skilled killer. He liked blending in. He liked being underestimated. It made his job much easier. Yes, he was a killer. First, trained by the U.S. government, then received a post graduate education in the lethal arts by remnants of the Carlo Gambino family.
            O’Brian sat on a small bench facing a bench of the same size with a thick wooden table resting in between. In the corner of the back room of the Irish Bank, there was a wood stove which O’Brian liked to look at as he drank. The waiter had left one of the doors slightly open. O’Brian could hear the rain and smell the fresh air.
            O’Brian noted the people coming and going, automatically assessing each for their threat potential. He saw soft people, with easy upbringings who were ill prepared to face death. He was thinking about that when somebody intimately familiar with death plopped down on the bench in front of him. It was Joey Butazi, his sometime employer.  “Jimmy, we got a job for you.”


Friday, September 13, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Keeping it simple

I've ridden many types of bikes over the years and have loved them all. What I don't love are the repairs that have to be made and paid for, at least those repairs I can't do myself. Yvon Chounard, owner of Patagonia is perhaps, the greatest example of someone getting close to the ideal of running a sustainable business. If Yvon were a cyclist (and who knows, maybe he is?) he'd ride a single speed. Why? Because its simple, requiring little or no maintenance, is versatile and when you're climbing, presents a challenge and I believe Yvon is a man that enjoys a challenge.

With that in mind. I took an old mountain bike I had and started stripping away the excess. Here is what I ended up with.

TO me, this is art. Note the clean lines. The gentle curve of the front fork and the accent of the blue pedals. This is my ideal bike, simple, functional and beautiful.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Novel

The following is the introduction of a story I've been writing. I'll be placing a chapter at a time on this blog. Feel free to comment.


            His bones ached.  He couldn’t sleep despite being exhausted from hiking through the snow drifts for the past two days and nights.  He couldn’t sleep because the package he had been sent to pick up was laying beside him in the tent as the blizzard rumbled outside. He lay staring at the ceiling of the tent, thinking. Then, he heard a sound from the package. It was the soft sound of a baby’s snore. That’s when he said out loud to himself-“I promise you will be with your family soon.”  Then, he heard another sound, it was the sound of men yelling. It was time to run
His snowshoes made little clouds of powder with each step. His mouth was drier than he could ever remember. It was worse than any of the marathons he had run, worse than any trail race and even worse than most of the tests he underwent in the Navy. His breath made clouds too. The clouds were in sync  Like a syncopated rhythm, his hoarse inhales and exhales echoed in his ears. They floated in front of eyes, blinding him at times. For the first time in decades, O’Brien felt real fear welling up in his chest. It wasn’t the fear of death, it was the fear of failure. 
            His arms ached from carrying his 40 pound package. Biceps screamed for relief, but, he had no mercy for his body, never had. He drove it on and on and on and would until he completed his mission or fell over dead. He became a machine, breathe in, breathe out. Take a step with the right foot, take one with the left. He thought of nothing.     The package stirred and the sweatshirt parted just enough so that O’Brien could see the tangled black hair inside. O’Brien couldn’t help himself.  He paused and looked over his shoulder.  His snowshoe foot prints were clear to see as were the drops of bright red blood that trailed behind him. 

Oakland is A-Okay!

I've lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1982. It's a great place to live for a variety of people for a variety of reasons. Even in this micro-climate, multiple sterotypes persist. Gertrude Stein who for some reason has remained famous since the 1920's despite writing several exceedingly boring novels is most well known for her alleged statement about Oakland-"Theres no there, there." In this, as in many other things, Gertrude Stein was wrong.

First, Oakland is a City with distinct neighborhoods. From the Hispanic center of Fruitvale, to Piedmont to Rockridge to East and West Oakland. I'll discuss my two favorite locales.


Walk along College avenue in the Rockridge area and you are surrounded by academics, both students and teachers every where you turn. A veritable sea of Birkinstocks, yellow labs and Coexist bumper stickers. You'll also find Zachary's deep dish pizza and directly across the street, a great place that serves very thin crispy slices of pizza. Like Japanese, Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese? All within walking distance of the BART station. Transbay Sports is renowned among runners as being the best Running store in the Bay Area, down the street is Run Jane Run a store for women runners and sponsor of many races and events.


Piedmont has two faces. The first and most well known face are the million dollar and up homes in the hills, the private and public schools catering to the wealthy locals and a beautiful private golf course. The second face of Piedmont is Piedmont Avenue where you can rest your soul at one of the many coffee shops, check out the independent bookstores, eat a variety of fine meals, shop at a great grocery store and get your bike fix at Montano Velo. I've spent many a fine hour on the Avenue.

Yes, its true that there is a lacking of civic activity in downtown Oakland but, that is changing. Farleys East is evidence enough that the younger demographic will hang out and spend their money in Oakland. Usually the most severe critics of Oakland are people who live in San Francisco and didn't grow up there. Given that downtown San Francisco goes to sleep after 6 is ample evidence that criticising downtown Oakland for not being lively enough is the height of hypocrisy.

So, check out Oakland and if you mention this column, you'll be entitled to the beverage of your choice, maybe two depending on yopur review.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Old Friends


John Matney

            O’Brien saw them first.  He hoped they would walk past him, unrecognized. She was as he remembered, a trim, short Asian woman with a protruding belly, looking like she was 3 months pregnant. She was 50 or more years old and had never had children. He was a little taller than O’Brien, handsome and still in shape. On her left had was a very large diamond ring. It was her third marriage. O’Brien remembered her saying once that she had told a previous boyfriend that before she would get married a second time, she had to have a 1 or 2 karat ring, O’Brien couldn’t remember what size. Her current ring had to be at least 3 karats.
            O’Brien was dressed in cargo pants, hiking shoes and a short sleeve linen shirt. His hair was long and he had a white beard. He hoped that was enough. It wasn’t. She noticed him and before passing stopped and stared. He looked back in silence. She poked her husband in the side and said loud enough for O’Brien to hear, “hey, that’s O’Brien!” The man, Mike looked at O’Brien for a few seconds and smiled.
            “Hey, what’s going on man?” Mike said with a big smile. O’Brien looked up and said, “just waiting for a plane, you?” Mike said, “we’re on our way to the Bahamas, Lynne has a marathon and we want to get in some beach time.”  “That’s nice” said O’Brien  hoping the conversation would end soon. Lynne then asked, “tell us what you’ve been up to.”
            O’Brien knew how this was supposed to play out. He remembered years ago, when he and Lynn had been friends that Lynne would ask him the most personal questions and he would oblige, revealing his most personal thoughts or experiences. She did not provide any stories or thoughts about her life. Questions about her weekend were answered with, “okay or the usual.” It had been a frustrating relationship. He used to feel foolish revealing so much of himself to a woman who was essentially a stanger. With that in mind, O’Brien said, “just enjoying myself.” 
            Mike asked “what’s with the beard man?”  Lynne added, “yes, you look so much older.” O’Brien thought about his recent trek through Nepal and Tibet, hiking over tens of thousands of feet in the mountains and smiled. “Well said O’Brien, I just haven’t felt like shaving.”
            “People have been asking about you, wanting to know what you’re up to,” Lynne said. O’Brien knew she wanted a story from him about the beard or what he was doing.  She wanted O'Brien to entertain her. Staring into the middle distance, he heard his breath and remembered. Remembered that years earlier, this woman didn't write, call or make an effort to see him in person when everything was falling apart around O’Brien. Years ago, O’Brien would have made a sarcastic remark peppered with a few F-bombs to chase Lynne away. Now, he was a different man.
            “I’ve been traveling and doing a lot of thinking” he said. He added, “I hope you have a great trip in the Bahamas”  He looked at the couple. Lynne had once said to O’Brien that she made a better girlfriend than she made a wife. That may have been the most revealing thing she had ever said to O’Brien. It was a true and revealing statement. He almost felt sorry for Mike knowing Lynne would get bored with him in a few years and start her search again for her perfect mate.
            “Well, Lynne stammered, goodbye.” Mike said, “yeah man, later” and they walked away, no doubt telling each other how strange O’Brien had behaved. O'Brien felt clean as he drank some of the now cold coffee, he picked up his book and started reading. Breathe in, breathe out.