Vermont Street, p.1
a pSecret pSociety pshort pstory
by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | APRIL 2015
We, Monique (Agent 32) and I (Agent 33), decided to check out San Francisco’s second-most curvy street – the largely unheralded Vermont Street – before the Giants-Padres game on Wednesday, August 24, 2011. I remember thinking at that time: A Psecret Psociety pshort pstory could come out of this. And, of course, I had my DAR (Digital Audio Recorder) running on a fresh charge.
It was a quiet, uneventful, still-foggy, noontime, mid-week N Judah train ride from our two-star Outer Sunset motel to the subterranean Civic Center MUNI station. Once there we exited and walked up to Market Street to the sound of drums and the sight of beaming sunlight. Darn, I preferred the fog and overcast sky.
At the route 19 bus stop on 8th Street, we saw the source of the percussive reverberations: a bright-red-vested street musician with a dozen miniature drums of various types strapped to his body. What an odd act. Only in San Francisco.
The 40-something, brown-bearded, portly Caucasian dude billed himself as Beat the Con-Un-Drum. He actually seemed to have some rhythm. I placed several silver coins in his black top hat. Maybe bring him to an MLS match.
Then a mid-to-late-50-ish, white-haired, Caucasian guy of slight build, sporting an SF (Giants) baseball cap, walked up to the bus stop. Monique surveyed him. I spoke first.
“Going to the game tonight?”
“Yep, yep, yep. Malloy never misses a home game. Well, not since the big earthquake.”
“The one in 1906? Hey, I’m just kidding. Just having a laugh. We’ll be there, too.”
“So, where are you two rascals going now?” Malloy asked.
“We’re going to check out Vermont Street – the serpentine section,” I said. “Ever been there?”
“Many times. We used to roll old bowling balls down that street back in ’79. We invented a game. Even had a league. The Potrero Hill Potatoes was our team’s name.”
“What?! The Potrero Hill Potatoes?”
“Yep, we would call our heavily gouged bowling balls potatoes, as they would wobble like misshapen spuds. Yep, yep, yep.”
“Ok. So, how did the game work?”
“It was kind of like bowling, but with just one pin at the end of the run. Play would start about a hundred feet south of 20th Street, just before the switchbacking descent. Yep, yep, yep. We would chalk a foul line across the street. The object was to bowl your team’s ball down the street, alternating bowlers, in as few bowls as possible to set up for the first easy shot at the lone pin. Whenever the ball touched – or jumped – the curb, it was out of bounds and a chalk mark was scratched where the ball struck or jumped the curb. The next bowl would then be from that spot, and so on until someone knocked down the pin at the bottom of the zig-zigging slope.”
“As in K-E-W-L? That’s the hepcat way to spell it. I invented that spelling long before the hipsters of today.”
“Ok, I’ll make a note of that.” I looked down and saw the green light on the DAR inside my shirt pocket. Excellent. It’s on. We got that recorded.
“Let me tell ya something. [I immediately thought of the Durutti Column song when he said that.] It was a helluva game. We would hoot and holler. The neighbors despised us at first, but we won most of them over; they became all-leaguers.” All-leaguers?
“How did your team do?” I bet Malloy was on the misfit team.
“We won a few Saturday night extra-spatials.” What the hell did he say?
“Extra-spatials or extra-specials?” I calmly asked, seeking some clarification.
“Yep, yep, yep. We lost in the quarter-finals, though. Won a ribbon or something. I think Ed has it now. Late at night was the only safe time to bowl.”
“I see. Did any bowling balls ever hit any people, cars or houses?”
“No, not that I am aware of. Bowlers were spaced up and down the hill, wearing thick gloves and steel-toed shoes. However, we did lose a ball one night. I never heard it hit anything. It just quietly disappeared in a hairpin turn.”
“Did that cost your team a penalty? Did your team have to forfeit the match?”
“Yeah, I think we lost that round. Yep, yep, yep.” He sure loves to say, ‘yep, yep, yep’. It must drive his wife insane. Or, maybe he has no wife now.
The orange-and-white, freshly washed MUNI bus pulled up to the bus stop. We all got on, but Malloy sat up front and we drifted to the back. Maybe we should have sat behind him and just kept the DAR running. There’s a novel in that guy.
Malloy got off at Mariposa. Monique, who had been mute thus far, then spoke up.
“I wonder what his life story is, Parkaar [my ailing alias].”
“Oh, it’s probably an interesting tale, Monique.”
“I’m sure that it is,” Monique said as she looked back at Malloy one last time as the bus pulled away.
“Yep, yep, yep,” I said as Malloy-esque as I could manage.
Monique laughed. “You almost sound like him.”
We had a short chuckle and then quieted down. It was a splendid day by the bay (even if the sun was bright).
Two minutes later, I pulled down on the stop-request cable. The sign illuminated and the bell dinged.
“Well, this is our stop, Agent 32.” He obviously has his DAR on. That’s the only time he calls me ‘Agent 32’.
We got off at 20th Street. We were on Rhode Island Street. Vermont Street was only two blocks to the west.
“Well, Monique, it’s just a short walk from here.”
“Ok, lead the way, Parkaar.”
“I like how you pronounced the double-Dutch-ah, Agent 32.”
“You always say that, 33.” She’s right. I’ve probably worn that groove out.
“Are you sure that your great maternal grandfather wasn’t Dutch?”
“Maybe Spanish or Chinese, but probably not Dutch.”
Soon we were on Vermont Street, looking down at the series of curves through the cypress trees. What a kewl street.
“Well, this is it, 32: the other curvy street in San Francisco that some say is more crooked than famous Lombard Street on Russian Hill. Want to walk down it?”
“Sure. But, let me take a picture here first.”
“Yeah, sure, go ahead. It’s some view.”
Monique then got her cell phone out of her handbag and snapped a few pics at the top of the hill. We walked down the sidewalk to the bottom of the curvaceous section, occasionally stopping to snap some more photos.
“What is that green space over there, 33?”
“It’s McKinley Square. Want to check it out?”
“Sure. Why not? We’ve got time, right?”
“Yeah, plenty of time before the gates open for the game.”
We then began walking up a trail that roughly paralleled the sinuous section of Vermont Street. About halfway up, Monique stopped, needing a water break. She gulped down some mineral water from Iceland. (I noticed the text on the bottle.)
While Monique was drinking the Icelandic glacier water, I looked down at an evergreen shrub. There seemed to be something bulging under its mulch. I bent down and brushed the mulch and thin layer of earth away to reveal a third of an old, black bowling ball. I used a nearby stick to dig around it. Three minutes later I had the ball extricated.
I held up the old, chipped, black bowling ball like a trophy. “Well, Agent 32, do you think this is the one that got away?”
“Maybe so, 33. Does it have any deep gouges in it?”
I twirled it around in my hands, and sure enough it had some chasms of missing plastic.
“It sure does
“I bet that is Malloy’s missing bowling ball,” Monique said.
“Yeah, this is the one that went AWOL thirty-two years ago.”
“It really does look about three decades old, Parkaar.”
“What should I do with it, 32?”
“I’d just leave it right there, 33.”
“Oh, I know … I’ll leave it in the playground.”
“A small child may get hurt by it.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, 32. Hmmm … I’ll just let it roll down this open area towards US 101.”
“Are you crazy, Agent 33?! It might hit a hiker. It could be rolling fast enough to kill someone. Do you want to be charged with murder for some silly stunt and serve ten years in a California prison?”
“Uh, no, I most certainly don’t, Monique. But, I don’t see anyone – not a soul … anywhere.”
“You’re not really going to do it, are you?”
“I think it will be ok. There’s no one in harm’s way. There’s no chance of it reaching the freeway. It will be fun to video it bouncing down the dusty slope.” Fun? He’s getting loonier by the minute.
Monique sighed and relented. “Ok, go ahead. But, if it strikes and kills someone …”
“Yep, yep, yep.”
We watched the bowling ball bounce down the nearly grassless, barren hillside. It careened off a cedar tree trunk and disappeared into some low brush.
“It’s gone now, 33.”
“Someone will find it in 2043.”
The Mr. Malloy character also features in the novella Mysterieau of San Francisco.
SDP 1 SFG 2