Buzz on the Street
A Prequel to The Love-Haight Case Files
by Donald J. Bingle
“G’night, boss,” called out Gretchen as she used one liver-spotted hand to snatch up the cane hanging off the edge of her desk. She slung a huge, flower-print, canvas purse over her shoulder and headed toward the door to Thomas Brock’s law office. Thomas noticed his receptionist barely used the cane as she practically glided toward the exit, humming what he guessed was a Perry Como hit from a half-century or more ago.
He smiled, glad that the old girl still seemed to enjoy her long life. The smile turned into a frown when he espied a mist enveloping the armless swivel chair Gretchen had just vacated. Sure, fog was a staple of San Francisco life, but not indoors, and definitely not localized around a small piece of office furniture. He marched over and spun the chair to face him, not that his action had any effect on the orientation of the mist.
“We’ve had this conversation before, Valentino. You know the rules. One, stay out of my receptionist. Two, no hanging around the office without completely materializing.”
The mist coalesced into a semi-translucent image of an unkempt hippie, complete with long, bedraggled, dishwater blond hair spilling out of a paisley bandana head-covering, a fringed leather vest over a tie-dyed shirt, and bell-bottom jeans held up by a macramé belt. Thomas suspected the ghost was either barefoot or wore sandals, but couldn’t be sure. The lackadaisical ghost didn’t bother to fully form most of the time.
“Chill out, man. You’re harshing my mellow. I ain’t bothering nobody, least of all Gretch. She’s a cool old lady, y’know. Just coppin’ a little bit of her buzz. Low pressure moving in, you know. She always pops an extra Vike ... Vicodin ... for her joints when the weather changes. Makes the long bus ride back to her retirement village more pleasant. Leastwise, that’s what she tells her friend on the phone when she’s chatting away instead of filing papers during the long waits between visits by paying clients.”
Thomas sighed. It’s not like he didn’t have sympathy for the spirit. After all, it was Thomas’ affinity for the various supernatural creatures which had manifested since the return of magic to San Francisco that led him to dedicate his small practice to protecting the legal rights and solving the problems of other-than-humans. The law didn’t do a very good job of dealing with OTs, from vampires, ghouls, and sprites, to werewolves, fey, and the undead. Truth told, the California legislature had not really had ghosts and paranormal creatures in mind when they drafted the laws of modern society.
“Look,” Thomas said, “I know you like to get high ...”
“The world would be a better place if everyone was high, man. Everything would be wonderful, all the time.”
Thomas decided not to argue the point. “And I know that, well, being a ghost, you haven’t been able to partake anything directly since your demise in ...”
“The Summer of Love, man. I haven’t partook, partied, smoked, dropped, licked, drunk, ingested, or inhaled anything in more than a half a century, bro. You know the drill. Ghosts can’t eat, touch, smell, drink, or feel nothin’. But I’m damned if I’m gonna spend eternity straight and sober or, worse yet, in withdrawal. I gotta keep the buzz goin’.”
“I know your life ... your unlife ... is hard ...”
“You don’t know shit, man. You’re young, yet. Not that many years out of school.”
“You don’t look that old, yourself.”
“Yeah, man, but my soul—my soul is old. You got any idea what it would be like to spend eternity without something to take the edge off? Dude, I ain’t had sex since before you were born. I can’t spend eternity without sex and without drugs, especially with what passes for rock and roll these days. That’s a bad, bad trip. And there’s no waking up from that.”
Thomas was pretty much a straight arrow—it was hard to pass the “character and fitness” qualification for the state bar if you partied too hard—but that didn’t mean he couldn’t empathize. “Look, Val, I know the only way you can get a buzz is to siphon off a bit from those still living who are ... uh ...”
“Stoned? Baked? Sloshed? High? Drunk? Tripping? In tune with Mother Gaia?”
“... uh ... who are in possession of buzz to spare, as it were. And I know you’re confined to within a block of where you ...”
“Died? Croaked? Expired? Checked out? Bit the big one? Took a dirt nap? Trundled off this mortal coil?”
“... last lived and loved. But, I’d really prefer you soak up your daily quota of buzz from partiers at the dance club on the corner or, better yet, reckless drivers speeding through the neighborhood and, well, stay out of my receptionist. Slipping in her unawares is so wrong on so many levels. She could be your grandmother!”
“Given her age and mine, more likely she could be my sister.” The spirit held up a foggy hand before Thomas could say anything. “Chill, dude. She’s not. Besides, receptionists are the ultimate challenge from a ghostly perspective.”
Thomas felt his eyebrows till inward. “Why’s that?”
The hippie grinned. “The same reason they make lousy hookers. A receptionist is supposed to care who gets in!” The ephemeral figure slapped his own knee as he chortled at his own joke, but it made no sound.
Thomas rolled his eyes. “I really don’t have time for this, Val. Please, just go bother someone else. I’ve got work to do. And you’ve got plenty of better pharmacological opportunities.”
Val shook his head. “That’s just the problem, man. My sources of supply are shrinking. Didn’t you hear? The buzz on the street is that ‘Dance, Dance, Drink’ is closing their doors. Booze and party drugs are my tofu and granola, brother. If the club goes dark, there won’t be any more buzz on the street. I need you to keep that from happening.”
Thomas frowned. “I hadn’t heard. More condos? If they put in a high rise that caters to a younger demographic, you might come out ahead. Less intense buzz per person, but more people.”
“Not tearing down the place, just gutting the interior and remodeling. Gonna be a food joint that serves nothing but bacon. Bacon sandwiches, bacon on a stick, bacon stuffed bacon with bacon sauce, chocolate covered bacon, bacon soda pop, and on and on. The word is they’ll even have bacon air fresheners and eau-my-god bacon de cologne. There’s a whole chain of these places, called ‘I Love Pigs.’” Val sneered. “You have no idea how much I despise that name, man.”
“Oh.” Thomas scratched his upper lip. “I’m not sure what I can do. The zoning requirements are the same for a restaurant as they are for a dance club which serves food and drink. Arguably less noise late at night, so no reason for neighbors to complain.”
“Nuh uh. That’s where you’re wrong. I heard these two guys talking—real Type-A assholes slumming after trading pork belly futures, whatever the hell that means. And they said the last place this pig franchise put up a store, the neighbors got all upset. Said the smell of bacon twenty-four/seven permeated the whole block and drove everybody batshit. I figure you and that new, young assistant of yours, Evelyn Love, you could maybe file a suit and save the neighborhood. Good community relations for you and a good way for you to see even less of me than right now.”
“I suppose I could make a statement at the next Planning Commission meeting.”
“Cosmic, man. Thanks, bro. Taking on Big Bacon. You won’t regret it.”
Thomas sighed. “I already regret it.”
Commissioner Grier’s upper lip curled as he glanced down at the agenda. “Next item: Public comment on final plan proposal for ‘I Love Pigs’ franchise location.” His eyes fluttered up from the sheet of paper for less than a second. “Hearing none ...”
“Excuse me, Commissioner,” called out Thomas. “I submitted written objections to your office earlier this week. I’d like to speak to those.”
Grier scowled, then shuffled through some papers, finally pulling out a blue-backed sheaf. He waggled it at Thomas as he replied. “You mean this? These objections? I thought this was a joke, something my staff dreamed up to punk me for taking out the coffee machine in the break room. This is serious?”
Thomas swallowed hard. “Absolutely serious, Commissioner Grier. The odor from an enterprise like this would ...”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Standard NIMBY nonsense whenever we’re asked to approve a restaurant. Candle stores, too. A lot of people hate the smell of candle stores.”
Thomas faltered. “Ah ... NIMBY?”
His young assistant, Evelyn Love, poked Thomas’ arm. “Not-In-My-Back-Yard. NIMBY, it’s an acronym.”
Thomas forged ahead. “Not at all, Commissioner. Our complaint isn’t that the odor from this establishment is bothersome because it is located near the habitat of my client, who wishes to remain anonymous, but that it would be offensive in any location by its very nature.”
Thomas furrowed his brow. Evelyn poked him again before he could respond.
Thomas nodded. “And, rest assured, my client is not opposed to alternative uses for the property if the current owner wishes to sell. Given the history of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, perhaps a methadone treatment facility or a medical marijuana outlet would be an acceptable alternative use.”
Grier’s head snapped back as if he had been physically struck. “You mean, your client would rather have a parade of hopped-up derelict druggies parading in and out of the building, than let people nosh on America’s favorite food?”
“Yes, Commissioner. Very much so.”
“Is this some anti-franchise or anti-corporation crap? You know, if young people hate corporations so much, maybe they should stick to their principles and refuse to work for corporations ... or buy from them.”
“If you’d just look at my written materials, Commissioner, you’d see that such is not the basis of my client’s objection. Rather, the argument is that the constant, overwhelming smell of bacon violates the rights of passersby, whether neighborhood residents and visiting tourists and citizens.”
“Ah, the vegan activists, no doubt. Sorry, counselor, but neither vegans, nor carnivores for that matter, are protected classes under the federal or state Constitutions.”
“True, Commissioner, but religious groups are. The consumption of pork products is forbidden under the guiding tenets of several major religions, including ...”
“No one’s making anyone eat the bacon if they don’t want to.”
“If you think of scents and odors as aerosolized components of the underlying food, then merely breathing in such a smell can be argued to be forced consumption of microscopic ...”
Grier slammed down his ceremonial gavel so hard the handle broke, sending the head flying back so that he had to duck to avoid being hit. “This is NOT the Middle East, sir. It is San Francisco, California, in the United States of America. And, if you think for one minute that I’m going to entertain an objection to a food establishment because some minority religious groups object to smelling food they don’t allow themselves to eat, you, sir, are seriously deranged. Why, under your argument, I’d have to close down every McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, and barbecue establishment in the city.”
“The only buts this Commission will consider are smoked pork butt sandwiches for lunch.” Grier started to bang the gavel again, but stopped when he apparently realized he had nothing but a headless handle in his grip. “Next agenda item!”
Val didn’t take the defeat well. Thomas saw little of the neighborhood ghost for months. But a few days after “I Love Pigs” opened on the corner, Val materialized in Gretchen’s chair long after both she and Evelyn had left for the day. The unkempt hippie had a beatific smile, his eyelids half-closed in what appeared to be bliss.
“You look happy.”
“I’m stoned out of my mind, thanks to you, man. Thanks to you.”
“Don’t see how. I haven’t even had a glass of wine this evening. No buzz for you to borrow.”
“S’not that. Thanks for failing.”
“You should talk to my father.”
The translucent hippie waved off his comment, the fingers of his hand dissipating into a swirling mist with the movement. “Failing to stop the Pigs. Never thought I’d say it, man, but I love Pigs.”
Thomas gave his ghostly friend a sidelong glance. “You can get a buzz off nitrates ... or is it nitrites?”
“Nah. At least I don’t think so. It’s the dolphins, man. I’m floating in dolphins.”
Thomas pursed his lips. “I think maybe you’re hallucinating. Most tuna’s dolphin free; I’m pretty sure all bacon is.”
Val giggled, then re-coalesced the fingers of his right hand and pointed at his own head. “But the people who eat it, their brains release dolphins. Especially the chocolate covered bacon.”
Thomas closed his eyes and concentrated, then opened his eyes and smiled. “Ah. Endorphins. Chocolate releases endorphins, which reduces pain—the word is derived from morphine, after all—and causes a feeling of euphoria, even love.” He shrugged. “I guess eating bacon could do the same thing.”
Val’s head tilted back as he murmured a few words Thomas couldn’t make out.
“What’s that?” asked Thomas.
“Ssssorrrry. Crispy crumbly makes me mumbly. I’ve had an epiphany.”
“Sssssooooo profound. And I found it, even though I didn’t know it was losssstttt.”
Thomas shook his head. “Let me guess. Love is the answer to everything. More specifically, love of drugs is the answer to everything.”
Val shook his head, his dishwater blond locks becoming a tangle of foggy tendrils. “Nah. Bacon is the answer to everything. Everything. No bacon in the Middddddle Eassst. No wonder they’re always fighting.”
Thomas chortled. “So, we should bomb them with bacon bits?”
Val closed his eyes. He looked like he was drifting off to sleep. He was definitely drifting off of Gretchen’s chair. But before he did, he nodded as a stupidly big grin spread across his translucent face. “We’re just a piece of bacon away from peace in our time ... a bacon cheeseburger away from paradise.”
Read more about Thomas Brock, Evelyn Love, and their fight for the legal rights of supernatural creatures in a magic-filled San Francisco in The Love-Haight Case Files, Books 1 & 2 by Jean Rabe and Donald J. Bingle, available in print or e-book.