Chapter Twenty-One (Foghorn Fish-and-Chips)

— — —

Wait. Wasn’t I talking about Thulin getting married? Okay, so, not long after Thulin and I talked about the rise of Haight-Ashbury with Mr. and Mrs. Forkel — which must have been around October of 1966 — he got married. Ha! That was a surprise. He wasn’t exactly the marrying kind.

Thulin still lived at Ralph’s place in San Mateo, but he’d been coming to the Haight pretty regularly for the last six months or so to pick up chicks. Ginny and I had an extra bedroom we let him use. We had a weird affection for Thulin. He’d get us dope, amuse us with his eye and totally crack us up when he got carried away with starry-eyed lust for some new chick or other. Usually it never lasted longer than a day, often no longer than an hour or so, but Wanda was different.

Ginny and I were with him up on Haight Street the day he found her. We got to see the whole romance from beginning to end. Wanda was fresh up from Carlmont High School and didn’t have a nickel to her name. Thulin spotted her on the sidewalk in front of Foghorn Fish-and-Chips and stopped, dead in his tracks.

“Oh, my God.” Ginny rolled her eyes. “You are such a rake, such a roué, such a snake — when are you ever going to leave these little girls alone?”

“Tomorrow,” Thulin said, staring straight at Wanda.

She wasn’t in line, but was lurking off to one side, looking longingly at the twin vats of boiling oil, salivating at the smell of deep fried fish and batter and malt vinegar and thick-cut, brown-skinned, French fried Russet potatoes still bubbling around the edges. Thulin kept his eye on her as she watched the English guy take a new batch of fries from the boiling fat. He gave them a few shakes in their wire basket, tossed them across the stainless steel counter and sprinkled them with salt from a giant aluminum saltshaker. Wanda licked her lips.

Thulin walked up to her as if in a daze and said, “Hey.”

They talked for a while. Thulin showed her his eye. He popped it out and pretended to shoot it like a marble at her chest. Then he grinned his goat-like grin and popped the eye back into its empty socket again.

“Cute,” Wanda said. Her hair was long and thick and black and lustrous. She had it tied into a ponytail with a red elastic band.

Thulin brought her over. “Me and Wanda here’s gonna get us a couple orders of fish-and-chips, then maybe head on back over to your place.” He grinned his goat-like grin and casually groomed his wispy goatee.

Wanda smiled a shy, polite, half-smile and glanced at us, then looked down at her black Converse sneakers sticking out from under a pair of bell-bottom jeans. She had a pink plastic wallet in her right hand. The wallet was held together by the same red elastic bands she used to tie back her black hair. We talked. Wanda was in the tenth grade at Carlmont High School. She’d come up on the Greyhound. Her parents didn’t know it yet, but she wasn’t planning on going back.

“I might need me a key,” Thulin said.

“Did Jon tell you his poem, yet?” Ginny asked Wanda.

“No. He just showed me his eye.” She brushed aside a strand of hair that had come loose from the elastic.

“So, what’d you think?” I asked her.

“I thought it was…um…unusual,” she said. “How does his poem go?”

“There’ll be plenty of time for all that later.” Thulin’s forehead got all contorted like he was trying to give Ginny and me a secret signal to shut the fuck up.

“Come on. I want to hear it,” Ginny said.

“I’m gonna break…the chains of conformity…into a million…shitty…pieces.”

“Yeah? And?” Wanda asked. She was still waiting to hear the rest of the poem. Ginny and I knew he was through.

“That’s it,” Thulin said. “That’s my poem.”

“It doesn’t rhyme,” Wanda said.

Ginny handed him her keys.

— — —

They were still at it when Ginny and I got back to the apartment. He and Wanda were louder than any of the other chicks had ever been. We could hear them from the hallway. I worried for a minute that they might be breaking things.

When he finally brought Wanda into the living room, Thulin had the biggest shit-eating grin I’d ever seen. He had his arm around her shoulders. I’d never seen him with his arm around one of his chicks before. She was gorgeous. They were all pretty cute, but Wanda was hauntingly beautiful. Her hair was blacker than black. It glistened all purple and green, like a starling’s wing in the sun, and her skin was creamy and flawless. Her lips were full and soft but always on the verge of a slight sneer. She had extra white, even teeth when she smiled, but she didn’t smile much. She was serious.

What was also extraordinary about Wanda was that she only fucked Thulin just that one time. He couldn’t figure it out. Days went by. She wouldn’t go away. Thulin didn’t know what to do. He kept kicking her out. She kept not going anywhere. That was fine with Ginny and me. They were cute together. She wouldn’t fuck him and she wouldn’t go away. Thulin didn’t get it; it was beyond the realm of his experience.

“So.” Thulin raised an eyebrow. “When do you think you might be heading on back to San Carlos, little girl?” He called them all “little girl.”

“I can’t go back there.” Wanda laughed. “Are you crazy?”

“So, what are you planning on doing, then?”

“I’m not planning on doing anything, Jon.” She blinked her eyes slowly and moved her lower lip. Her mouth was relaxed and slightly bored.

“Yeah, well, if you’re going to be here, we’re going to be here, like, together, you know?” He nodded in the general direction of the extra bedroom and smiled the goat-like smile that had always done the trick with every other chick.

“I don’t think so,” Wanda said.

“What do you mean, you don’t think so? Who the fuck do you think you are? The fucking Queen of fucking Sheba?”

“Yes,” said Wanda. “I am the fucking Queen of fucking Sheba.” She made right angles of her arms and looked like a picture of a Pharaoh’s wife on a pyramid.

“Hey, listen, man,” Thulin said. “You’re cute and all that, but you’re gonna have to split. Period. I’m not dicking around.” He jerked his thumb toward the door.

Wanda shrugged her shoulders and stared at him.

“Fuck it, then. I’ll leave.” Thulin opened the door.

“Could you bring us back something to eat?” Wanda asked.

When he came back with Chinese food and Wanda’s usual can of Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer, Thulin tried to get her to fuck him again. She wouldn’t. He couldn’t believe it. He kicked her out in as many ways as he knew how. Wanda examined the ends of her hair. She wanted them to get an apartment of their own. Thulin found a place around the corner on Page Street. He and Wanda moved into it together, but she still wouldn’t fuck him. She wanted them to get married. He kicked her out of their new apartment again and again. She never left.

— — —

During the wedding ceremony, Thulin kept shaking his head and rolling his eye and muttering obscenities into his wispy beard. He flipped the ring like a coin and kept trying to get the makeshift preacher to call it in the air. The makeshift preacher had some ocular trouble of his own. Gold wire glasses magnified his right eye. It seemed to float aimlessly over toward his hatchet nose like a dark, bloated tropical fish trapped in a tide pool.

Thulin and Wanda had met the preacher in Golden Gate Park. His name was Kirk. He looked like a picture of the Prophet Ezekiel in one of those ornate Victorian Bibles. They took him home with them, and while he was cooking his brown rice and broccoli, Kirk agreed, under the auspices of the powers conferred upon him by some guru in Nepal, to marry them, for better or for worse.

Wanda had the exact place she wanted to get married already picked out — up past the horseshoe pits, across from the fuchsia gardens, among ferns so gigantic they looked like palm trees buried up to their necks in black soil. Thulin didn’t give a shit about any of that. He just wanted to get it the hell over with. During the ceremony, Kirk chanted some sort of chant he’d learned over in Tibet. Everyone knew what he was saying whether anyone could understand any of the words or not — well, everyone but Thulin. He’d gotten kind of monomaniacal. He didn’t know anything but that he wanted to fuck Wanda.

Then Thulin grabbed the ring out of the air for the last time and handed it over. Kirk looked through the circle formed by the ring and into the cloudless sky. Then he looked at Thulin through the ring. Thulin flipped him off. Then Kirk looked at Wanda through the ring. She smiled. There were tears in her eyes. Kirk’s wandering eye settled on each of them. He put the ring onto Wanda’s ring finger. It fit. That seemed significant. Kirk closed his eyes and bowed his head. Birds stopped twittering in the bushes. Then he opened his eyes and asked Wanda if she would take Jon to be her husband, to have and to hold.

Wanda said, “Yes.”

Thulin got a big shit-eating grin on his face.

Then Kirk asked Jon the same question.

“Motherfucking, Jesus H. motherfucking fuck,” Thulin answered.

Wanda bashed the bridal bouquet across his chest.

“Okay, okay, yeah,” Thulin said.

Kirk dutifully repeated the question, like he’d be breaking his vows to the guru in Nepal if he didn’t conduct the ceremony correctly. “Yes. Yes. Yes. For cocksucking Christ’s sake, what the fuck more do you want me to say? I do. I do. Jesus fucking fuck.”

Kirk deemed that to be sufficient. The ceremony was over. We all went back to Shrader Street — well, except for Wanda and Thulin — and when they finally showed up, he had another big shit-eating grin on his face, the biggest yet, the biggest ever.

— — —

A couple of months later, Wanda was pregnant. Thulin couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t fucking believe it. He wanted to know if I could fucking believe it. We were having coffee in the donut shop on the corner of Haight and Shrader.

“What am I gonna do with a kid?” he asked.

“Kids are cool,” I told him.

“Yeah? What kind of a place is this to have a kid in?”

“The same kind of place it’s always been, Jon.”

“With this fucking war and shit going on? I don’t know, man. And what about other chicks? What am I supposed to do about that? Be a fucking monk?” Then he got pensive for a minute and started speaking more softly. “We’ve been talking about naming him Jon. Except if it’s a chick. Then I don’t know what we’d do. Any name we pick, I fucked some chick with the same name. That’s gonna piss her off, you know? We talk about all kinds of stuff, her and me. I really totally love the fucking piss out of her, but — fuck it. I can’t deal with this shit.”

“Wouldn’t it be like starting all over…having a clean slate?”

“What are you talking about, man? You offed you and Ginny’s kid, didn’t you? So, what’s this clean slate horseshit? I’ve been trying to get Wanda to off the fucker. She won’t do it. She’s like all Catholic and shit. How’d you get Ginny to — have an abortion?” He must have seen that I wasn’t amused.

“I didn’t. It was her idea — her and her father’s lawyer. They talked it over. It wasn’t practical, she wasn’t in any condition, and it was true, she wasn’t, but…”

“You wanted a kid?”

“Yeah. I like kids.”

“Hey, man, I groove with kids, too. But he’d also be, like, around all the fucking time, you know? Like fucking forever. Like fucking always. Pooping in his pants and shit — or her pants. Motherfuck. What would I do with a chick for a kid?”

“Like it,” I said. “Love it. Take care of it. Feed it. Clothe it. Educate it. Take it places. Grow it up.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know, man. We’ll see.”

Not long after our conversation at the donut shop, four or five months before the baby was born, Thulin dumped Wanda and moved back to San Mateo.

That was the last I ever saw of him. The next thing I heard was that he went to New Mexico and got his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone, and later I heard from Dick Joseph that he was killed in a drug deal that didn’t work out.

Wanda was pissed that Thulin dumped her. She didn’t try to get him back, no — that wouldn’t have been her style. She took it out on him by naming his kid “Popeye.” She’d been going to name him Jon but decided at the last second to name him Popeye, instead. Dick Joseph kept track of her, too. He kept track of everyone. According to him, Wanda got on welfare, went back to school and ended up working as a dental hygienist in a small, rural community just outside Tallahassee, Florida — the sort of place a kid named Popeye would fit right in.

Note:

The multimedia version has music by Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Barry McGuire and Dr. Hook, but this voice only version ain’t bad all on its own. Watch it and see: