(photo of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, early 1900s, from a Sierra Club Bulletin 1908)
With a deep valley of similarity between Sanford William “Hilltop” Englethwart’s ego, and the Sierra Nevada water system that supplied water to the golden real-estated hills of San Francisco and its environs, it may seem only natural, or possibly even neurally-artesian, that his 1,500 page, gold-leaf covered memoir published in 1987 at the age of 41, would be called “Sketch Sketchy — The Art of Making a Big Deal Out of Nothing.”
“Man, this is one sketchy dude,” Willard Wingman said in an interview that year in the weekly “Around and Underneath the Bay.” “Really. It was like his parents drew him freehand, in short, strong bursts of creative gisum glossed with the sheen that only fertile egg yolk gives.”
Wingman had known The Hilltop since eighth-grade progressive algebra when, together, they discovered it was possible to control the naturally associative properties of math by simply hanging the parentheses in different ways and places on the page, then adding stuff up how you wanted. That Wingman would later become an enormously successful “conceptual algebra” artist was “written in the cards,” Englethwart, an enormously wealthy fantasy-real estate developer, often said, referring to the card game they played in their frequent study session breaks, called “Texas Hold ‘Em, Stroke ‘Em, and Shoot ‘Em.”
That algebra could be a beauty of dysfunction was a fashion that nearly caught on in the “acid days” of San Francisco, before the city’s Public Utilities Commission began stopping people from throwing tabs of “window pane” into the aqueduct at various places along its 170 mile run to town.
“So I’m, like, standing on a corner at Powell and Geary. Just watching life go by,” The Hilltop says in chapter 4. “Then — ‘Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding’ — a cable car rumble-steel’s its way by. The carman’s gloves are heavy leather, with gauntlets that stop halfway up his lower arms. He’s pulling on the levers of the car that control how hard they grip the cables running underneath the street. And I realize that, at this moment, I’m living in a working museum.
“Then suddenly I’m six years old, again, and standing on this same corner with my Noobie June, my mother’s mother. Her fingers are wrapped Granny-tight around my hand, as we wait to cross the street and buy a cone at Swenson’s.
“‘Fragile,’ Noobie says, her head turned and tilted toward my ear, ‘remember this: A cat has legs and is a cat because it uses them.’
“I had no idea what she meant. The lady hated animals almost as much as she hated people. The only thing she really liked was ice cream, which is why, when she died at 93, they had to haul her body down the stairs of the Starboard House on Grant, on a door made from three-inch thick white oak.
“But I can feel her fingers, still, trying to squeeze the orange juice from my hand. She was such a nasty woman.”
Which we found, in following the links involved with our own rereading-and-rewriting story of today, may have been the one accomplishment The Hilltop never thought he’d leave behind — as Donald Trump would read that line in the summer of his own long, twisted run to a Poli-Sci-Fi town, in a book he found left tent-open on a bench in Central Park.
“Such a nasty woman,” Trump would mutter to himself as he read the words, then look across the path at the fairy-tale life grandeur of his Tower. “It’s a sign. The Gods are saying: ‘Donald, you’re our boy.'”
Or, possibly, it’s just a sign of an older free-association problem, that confuses the beholding of a species’ individual ideas of youth and value, with the dead-meat social hugging of a tribal immaturity, while vanitizing everything around and in the parentheticals.
20161029 17:19 (666 words)
▸ Bruce Cockburn performing:
– “Pacing the Cage”, in studio 1998, from “The Charity of Night” 1997
– “Open” and
– “Put it in Your Heart” from “You’ve Never Seen Anything” 2003
– “Listen for the Laugh” from “Dart to the Heart” 1994
– “Call it Democracy” from “World of Wonders” 1986