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San Francisco Noir 

I woke up with a start, like a thief caught napping by a latchkey kid. Only it wasn't a kid, it was a barking dog, and I was at the Rex Hotel on the sixth floor, on vacation.

"Whose dog is that?" I cried out.

"How would I know?" Laura said. "We're in a hotel."

It kept barking. It was the melodious hound of Sutter Street. Later, we had lattes in the fog by the Fulton Street entrance to Golden Gate Park, and two miniature dachshunds broke through our reverie with these huge bloodhound barks. Their owner, a hefty woman with the no-nonsense look of a 10-story flophouse landlady, pulled their straining leashes. Even Laura, whose love of dogs knows no bounds, was somewhat taken aback. She doubted her wisdom of wanting a pet dachshund in the future.

I gripped firmly my Dashiell Hammett paperback. We had just dashed up the rocks at the ruins of Sutro Baths and gone past the barking seals at Seal Rock. The city had a lugubrious barking air. You couldn't see the seals in the fog, but they were there. The Sutro Baths burned down in 1966. We bought a poster of how they looked before the fire. Opulent. The robber barons lived well before that fire.

The trek through Golden Gate was long and tortuous, through flowering nasturtium and poppy fields broken here and there by white lilies and wild roses. Dogs appeared suddenly, followed by joggers in tight Lycra. Lurking in the cool mist around huge eucalyptus trees were puff ephemera that danced quickly and vanished.

"What are they?" asked Laura, born too late to know their origin.

I explained. Long ago when the hippies came here to find paradise, they had complex visions. Some of the things they saw lurking in the pulsing fabric of flowers and pointillist fog escaped from their visions and settled in the park. They were called "Flashbacks," but that was just a generic term. Like dogs, they were of many breeds and sizes. Unlike dogs, they didn't bark. They just streaked across the path with furtive rapidness, like abandoned dreams. Which they were.

Suddenly, there was a taxi. We leapt in and ordered the taciturn Bellorussian driver to a certain address on Valencia Street. If this had been a movie, it couldn't have been a better cut. The scene changed to a cafe in front of New College where the children of hippies who'd created the Flashbacks were clumped about the doors of this informal university, discussing global economics. I took out my notebook. Laura held my Hammett. The fog showed no signs of lifting.

Back in the bar at the Rex, we had the three-dollar special, bourbon and Coke. A white-haired woman wearing a policeman's jacket was listening to the flattery of a slick PR lady praising her latest novel. I strained to hear. It was a murder mystery set in San Francisco's criminal lesbian underground. I signaled to Laura, who reads all the crime novels. She didn't know who the writer was. There was danger everywhere. An unknown dog had barked, an unknown novelist was at the next table. We were on vacation.


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